The Advantages and Disadvantages of Urban Missions

Several months ago, the United Nations released data showing more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. The projection is that before 2050, that number will climb to two-thirds. According to the report posted on CNN.com:

Today, 55% of the world’s population is urban, a figure which is expected to grow to 68% by 2050, with the addition of 2.5 billion new city residents, according to projections by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

By 2030, there will be 43 megacities around the world with populations of over 10 million, up from 33 similarly sized urban centers today and just 10 in 1990.

As we consider these statistics, there can be little doubt that our missionary efforts need to focus on the cities of the world. As we do so, I wanted to point out several advantages and disadvantages to this missionary strategy.

DISADVANTAGES:

    1. Cost

As we consider sending missionaries to the cities, churches and mission organizations will need to adjust budget expecationsions accordingly. The cost of living in a city will dwarf the costs of rural or suburban living. The real-estate adage, “location, location, location” is more true in the city than anywhere else.

As we make plans for sending missionaries into cities, we need to plan accordingly.

    2. Crunch

As well as the financial pressure of city dwelling, there is also an emotional toll.  In the city there is more bumping, touching, smelling, and hearing other people. The crunch of people can cause stress for those who need more interpersonal space.

Missionaries to the cities should pay attention to their emotions and, when necessary, pull away for temporary R&R.

    3. Crisis

Cities magnify life’s circumstances. In the urban environment one experiences more crime, poverty, violence, discrimination, and other forms of social crisis. We are more likely to be victims and to feel the pressure to solve everything,

Missionaries in the city will need to develop a sense of personal security and trust in the security found in Christ.

   4. Chaos

Cities are loud, dirty, and chaotic. They have a rhythm of their own. For some, the chaos of urban living can be thrilling. For others, it can be frustrating.

As a missionary, you may never “feel” at home in your new place of residence. But it is important to learn dwell with intentionality and seek to be an accepted outsider. Remember that this is home for those God has called you to reach.

ADVANTAGES:

     1. Density

The city provides the missionary the opportunity to reach larger numbers of people. In a smaller location, it is easy to feel that your ministry has saturated the population. This will never be the case in the city.

    2. Diversity

Cities not only have larger numbers of people, they also have larger numbers of diverse types of people. Cities are ethnically diverse, politically diverse, socially diverse, economically diverse. We can reach the world AND the peoples of the world from the cities.

   3. Dispersion

Information, fashion, fads, and messages always flow from the city to the surrounding areas. The New Testament missiology shows the apostles going to the cities and the message flowing outward (See 1 Thess 1). The history of revivals shows that when the city was awakened, the awakening flowed outward. We can reach beyond the city by reaching the city, but rarely can we do the opposite.

   4. Demonstration

Because of the social ills, human diversity, and human suffering that is present in the cities, there is more opportunity for us to demonstrate the power of the gospel. It was when the Christians of Rome ministered to the suffering in the city that the unbelievers took notice. We can do the same today.

In the city, we can show the love, the grace, the power, the justice, and the hope that can be found in Jesus. 

Scott Hildreth Administrator
Scott Hildreth is the director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies. He frequently speaks on issues of missions, spiritual formation, missiology, and theology. Scott also produces content on his own blog at www.dshildreth.com.
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