I grew up in a small town and enjoyed swimming and fishing in the summer, hunting in the fall and playing pond hockey in the winters. I talk to many people who long for simpler times in rural America. Having said all that, I am increasingly convinced of the importance of cities. And after 23 years in Grand Rapids, I have appreciated the strategic ministry opportunities in Michigan’s second largest city.
As the apostle Paul embarked on his missionary journeys, he prioritized the major cities of the world. And it could be argued that cities are even more important in our day. People are moving to the city in droves. By most estimates, we have reached the point where over 50 percent of the world population now lives in cities, compared with around 5 percent two centuries ago.* Because of the internet and other forms of electronic communication, we don’t have to live in the same location to communicate. And yet people continue to be drawn to the cities as places of opportunity, collaboration and influence.
Ishak Ahmed is our national partner in India and the president of the Northeast India Baptist Bible College in Silchar. While slightly larger than Grand Rapids, Silchar is a relatively small town in India. I recently asked Ishak why the early missionaries chose that location instead of a larger, more influential city. He replied that most of the evangelical missionaries were from rural areas and they felt more drawn to a more rural area.
And to me, that is the danger. We must be driven by gospel strategy and not sentimentality. We can’t simply avoid the challenges of urban ministry because they are uncomfortable. We must think of the unique opportunities in the cities. 1) We are able to reach the younger generation who come for universities and job opportunities. 2) We are able to reach the “cultural elites” and those who have a disproportionate influence in our culture. 3) We are able to reach the accessible “unreached” people groups from around the world. And they are more open to the gospel than they would be in their own context.
Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:City-of-the-future.jpg