This is the second of a two part series from Stephen Um on the discussion surrounding God’s mission to various parts of the world. See part one here.
There Is a Need
Recently, the front page of the New York Times featured a story on “China’s Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million Into Cities.” According to the piece, “China is pushing ahead with a sweeping plan to move 250 million rural residents into newly constructed towns and cities over the next dozen years. . . .The ultimate goal of the government’s modernization plan is to fully integrate 70 percent of the country’s population, or roughly 900 million people, into city living by 2025.” Now, obviously, this kind of forced urbanization raises immense concerns about human rights, sustainability, etc., many of which are addressed in the article. But we must realize that what is forcibly happening at a rapid pace in China is a picture of what is happening, organically and more slowly, in other cities around the world.
The need that the newly urbanized world will create is almost hard to measure. If we modestly aimed to have one church for every 10,000 people, China alone would need 25,000 new churches planted over the next 12 years simply to keep up with urban migration. Twenty-five thousand churches. Needless to say, strategically addressing this need will take far more than a verbal or published emphasis on city-ministry from a few prominent evangelicals. It will take even more than the efforts of Christians with a built-in affinity for the city. It will take Christians from around the world, from all contexts, praying, giving, and working together for the spread of the gospel, regardless of contextual preference. This new situation calls for a response from allChristians, not simply those who live in or have a heart for the city.
There is Hope
The rapid pace, global scale, and future-nature of urbanization make it hard to crystallize and quantify. How should we define “city”? Where do we draw the line between suburb and city? What are the differences between established cities in the United States and the global cities that are springing up as if overnight? These are important questions that will require careful thought and increased precision as the conversation moves forward.
But what mustn’t be missed in the middle of the conversation is that urbanization and the need for gospel witness in developing cities is much more than an intramural evangelical debate; it is an emerging reality. However you define or name them, there are densely populated regions filled with millions of people in need of the gospel. And the gospel, with which we have been entrusted, is God’s good news for those people. It is where their hope lies. It is where our hope lies. The gospel is the power of God for salvation for rural dwellers, suburbanites, and urbanites. And precisely because it is God’s good news for all people in all places, we should eagerly expect to see it spreading to the booming and burgeoning cities of our increasingly urban world. May we all pray and strive toward this end.
By Stephen Um