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28 Jun '12

A wake up call for missions: The world is moving to the city

Posted by T.J. Addington in missions
The largest migration in the history of the world is quietly taking place and it will become a tsunami shift of the world's population in the next forty years: the world is moving from the countryside to the city in massive numbers. This shift threatens to catch the missions world unprepared.


Consider these statistics from 2005 related to foreign born migration to the cities. The percentage of the foreign born population in Miami was 50.94%, Toronto, 44.99%, Los Angeles 36.24%, London 27.05%, Brussels 26.58%, Dubai 82%. And this does not count all the internal migration taking place within countries like China to the city. China is set to resettle 400 million people from the country side to the city in the next 30 years.


Look at the populations of these cities of the world:
1. Tokyo, Japan - 32,450,000 
2. Seóul, South Korea - 20,550,000 
3. Mexico City, Mexico - 20,450,000 
4. New York City, USA - 19,750,000 
5. Mumbai, India - 19,200,000 
6. Jakarta, Indonesia - 18,900,000 
7. Sáo Paulo, Brazil - 18,850,000 
8. Delhi, India - 18,680,000 
9. Õsaka/Kobe, Japan - 17,350,000 
10. Shanghai, China - 16,650,000

11. Manila, Philippines - 16,300,000
12. Los Angeles, USA - 15,250,000
13. Calcutta, India - 15,100,000
14. Moscow, Russian Fed. - 15,000,000
15. Cairo, Egypt - 14,450,000
16. Lagos, Nigeria - 13,488,000
17. Buenos Aires, Argentina - 13,170,000
18. London, United Kingdom - 12,875,000
19. Beijing, China - 12,500,000
20. Karachi, Pakistan - 11,800,000
21. Dhaka, Bangladesh - 10,979,000
22. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 10,556,000
23. Tianjin, China - 10,239,000
24. Paris, France - 9,638,000
25. Istanbul, Turkey - 9,413,000
26. Lima, Peru - 7,443,000
27. Tehrãn, Iran - 7,380,000
28. Bangkok, Thailand - 7,221,000
29. Chicago, USA - 6,945,000
30. Bogotá, Colombia - 6,834,000



With some exceptions, traditional missions has flourished in rural mono cultural settings. In many ways it is easier and less expensive than tackling the growing major urban areas of our planet. It is also where the majority of the world's population lived until recent decades. Hard as this was, it pales in comparison to reading the multi-cultural complex urban centers of the future.


In addition, because the evangelical movements in the United States largely abandoned the cities of our nation for the suburbs and rural areas, there are very few personnel coming into mission organizations with experience of working in large, complex, highly populated, diverse urban areas.


What are the challenges faced for mission agencies in reaching these huge urban areas with the gospel? First, Gospel penetration will never happen without agencies and denominations working together in cooperation to reach the growing urban areas of our planet. Mission agencies and denominations have a poor track record of cooperating for the cause of the Gospel globally but until that happens we will not see significant Gospel penetration of the world's cities.


Coupled with this, many denominations in the United States (and globally) do not see the value in working with believers outside of their particular theological tribe. Our small kingdom hearts, compared to that of Jesus hold us back from seeing the synergies of working in cooperation with others who are Gospel centered and missional. For too many of us it is about the brand before the Bride. For Jesus it is about the Bride, not the brand.


Cities are complex. They are also the populations of influence. Their large immigrant communities are more open to the Gospel then when they lived in their traditional places with their traditional social systems. There is a higher level of education and often higher concentrations of evil. In addition, they are not mono cultural but multi cultural requiring multi-cultural teams and strategies. Unless we unlock the code of how the Gospel can penetrate these huge and growing population centers - and start today, we will again be playing catch up to a changing world. 


The Western church, indeed the global church and its mission agencies need to take up the challenge of cooperative efforts to penetrate these growing global cities with the gospel. The time to start is now!