Mission Field: The North American Urban Context

When I consider the mission field of North America (NA), Jesus’ actions and words often come to mind as a good reminder and strategic thought process for engagement. He was going through all the cities and villages, teaching and proclaiming the gospel, and healing diseases and sicknesses (Matthew 9:35). Let’s sets the stage with that as we consider some facts.

In our second post, Mission Field: Defining the North American Context, we discussed what defines the different types of population centers in NA. Today, we will expand upon the first area of interest: Urban Areas (UAs).[1]

What Is “Urban” Revisited

In our previous discussion, we provided two definitions of urban.  The first defined UAs based on population numbers. The second attempted to capture some of the nuances that make a population uniquely “urban” in today’s North American Context.

The importance of this expanded definition is in identifying that “urban” no longer simply means a lot of people living in close proximity, though that is certainly part of the discussion, but it also encapsulates concepts about the cultural dynamics and the emanating influence of UAs.  Urban centers and populations serve as influencers not only to themselves and those in close proximity, but to the continents and the entire world. In the past, empires and nation states were the primary influence brokers. Now, UAs often fill that role.

The Urban Context by The Numbers

Though the urban context can be defined by more than just numbers, the numbers do matter.  The pure size and cross section of demographics does make UAs important contexts.  For example, if the unchurched population of NA were a stand-alone nation, it would be the fourth most populated nation on earth with an estimated 280+ million people.  When factoring in population growth and immigration, this number increases as globalization continues to shift massive population centers around the globe.


America Key Stats

  • 486+ Urbanized Areas Identified
  • 3,087+ Urban Clusters (2,500 to 50,000 people)
  • 250+ Million People in UAs
  • 71%+ of Population in Urbanized Areas; 80%+ in Combined UAs


Canada Key Stats

  • 33 Identified CMAs[2]
  • 25+ Million People (70% of Canada’s Population) Live in CMAs
  • Over 1/3 Live in 3 Largest CMAs (Toronto, Montreal & Vancouver)
  • 75% of Population Lives within 100 Miles of Canadian/US Border


This leaves us with great potential to impact the nations, as well as our own context, via these massive population centers.  Urban centers need the gospel, and at an alarming rate, as the population is outgrowing the efforts of many existing churches as well as church plants.


In part two of this section on UAs, we will provide some thoughts on strategy and application for approaching these contexts.


[1] Technically, we are discussing “metropolitan statistical areas” or “urban areas.” The term “urban cluster” has been defined as encompassing a territory of 2,500 to 50,000 people. According to the Census Bureau, “urban areas” are a combination of urbanized areas (50,000+) and urban clusters (https://www.census.gov/geo/reference/ua/urban-rural-2010.html).

[2 ]In Canada, a Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) is “a very large urban area (known as the urban core) together with adjacent urban and rural areas that have a high degree of social and economic integration with the urban core. An MA has an urban core population of at least 100,000, based on the previous census.” (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/z01/cs0007-eng.htm)


Mike Dodson Author
Associate Director for North American Church Planting
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Posted in Blog, Missions Resources, Planter's Bulletin and tagged , , , , , , .

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  1. Pingback: Mission Field: North America Urban Context Part II – Center for Great Commission Studies

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