How does urban population growth affect the face of missions? As my wife Gina and I served as missionaries in Uganda, our eyes were opened to an entirely different view on the immigration struggle. The capital city of Kampala had swelled from an estimated 33 Million in 2013 to 45 Million by 2018. In our travels, we learned the many reasons for the influx of people was not just local population growth, but something much darker was behind the scenes. The increase of people is not only Ugandans, but displaced people from the war-torn Sudan in the North, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the west, or even leftovers that escaped the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda in the south. War and HIV/AIDS have driven people to not just look for a better life but to seek survival itself.
Webster’s describes urbanization as “the act or fact of urbanizing, or taking on the characteristics of a city.” The fact is that people are migrating to the city looking for a better way of life. Many will search for a way to provide for their family and send the provision back to the village in which they came. This search is prevalent in the increase in urban growth worldwide. Whether it is for jobs, or escaping war-torn areas; cities are growing by leaps and bounds. The United Nations Global Health Observatory (GHO) reports alarming increases in metropolitan living.” The urban population in 2014 accounted for 54% of the total global population, up from 34% in 1960, and continues to grow.” When it comes to Urban population growth, less developed countries of the world will continue to decline, and most people will be living in urban areas. The GHO estimates growth at “approximately 1.84% per year between 2015 and 2020, 1.63% per year between 2020 and 2025, and 1.44% per year between 2025 and 2030.
Harvey Cox in his book The Secular City “The rise of urban civilization and the collapse of traditional religion are two main hallmarks of our era, and are closely related movements.”
So, how does this future projected spike in urbanization affect the gospel mission at the local church level? Although we are all one body in Christ worldwide, the local church will have to strategize for their area and be focused on the people groups that migrate to that area to be useful in the future. Some of the challenges that the local church may face can be large. God is bringing people to our cities from all over the world, and we must prepare for this to be effective. First, the local church will need to be grasping the demographics of their city and finding a way to connect with them. If there is a significant influx of immigrants, then it would be essential to key in on them with some type of outreach in their native tongue and maybe even focus in on their culture. If History dictates a growth of this size, we must seize the opportunity to use it to our advantage for the kingdom. God is using the decline of the western missionary movement to bring the mission field to us. Secondly, is that someone must hear the call to go and others must pay for them to go. Urbanization happens worldwide, and someone must be willing to get out of their comfort zone and go. Equally, someone must send by providing finances for them that are at the tip of the missions spear. Both being sent and being the sender require obedience.
Joshua Project.com describes Unreached People Groups (UPG) as “an ethnic group without an indigenous, self-propagating Christian church movement.” These are people that have no church or Bible in their native land or language. As these peoples are intertwined into the big cities, there is a need for outreach to do an inner-city “in reach.” The Ministry that can understand and adapt to the global concept of being kingdom minded will be able to unlock an endless array of resources and be ready and willing to great the new frontier of missions, the melting pot of the worlds inner cities.
These resources are interwoven into the very fabric of scripture that was there the day it was written. The fact that God’s plan from the beginning was and still is to bring his people back to Himself. The rural community as we know it is migrating to the big city for a reason. People groups that are displaced are searching for safety, shelter, and security. People groups are coming by the thousands to the world’s cities seeking the answer to the international question of “why am I here?” and “why is this happening?” The church needs adaptability to be ready to minister to the inquisitive minds and give them the answer to the things they seek. Because regardless of the people group or the language they speak, the answer will always be Jesus.
Simply put, God has brought the mission field to us, the big city. God will send us a people group representative that can and will, fulfill the great commission in his homeland. The church that learns to welcome them, love them and train them will become a fruit producing branch of the vine. Resources show us that the great urbanization migration has begun and will only increase. Evil causes the displacement of tens of thousands of people worldwide, but if the church is ready, it will drive them into the arms of a loving God. We all have our part to play in the great commission, and we need to grasp this concept for fear of being left behind. God’s will be done, using us or someone else.