Metropolitan and urban areas are becoming so diverse in the U.S. that the old models of urban and even suburban ministry don’t have much relevance.
That is the major lesson that the recent Census figures suggest to religious organizations, according to the current issue of Visions (March/April), a newsletter on demography and religion. The data on changes in the number of people living in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas and their ethnic backgrounds suggest that “there is no single course of change occurring in metropolitan areas on which to plan comprehensive urban ministries, new church developments, or the revitalization of existing churches,” writes editor Anthony Healy.
The manner in which ethnic ministry is conducted is changing, as ethnic enclaves are as likely to be located in the suburbs as they are in the center of cities. Many ethnic groups also no longer form enclaves but are rather dispersed throughout the city and suburbs. Those enclaves in the city are usually more marginalized and may be in need of more ministry than those in the suburbs, but Healy finds that suburban churches also need to reach out to poor residents from the new ethnic groups.
Of the major metropolitan regions, Healy adds that “less than half a dozen have the growth rates, and the apparent kinds of population influx, to support the model of establishing large new, primarily white suburban churches that are common among some mainline denominations. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence of major flops is surfacing among these kind of churches.”
More than three-fifths of whites live outside these large metropolises. Healy concludes that congregations may have to learn to switch courses and adapt. Some central city congregations “are finding themselves with affluent, professional neighbors; and some plateaued suburban bodies are finding themselves with ethnic neighbors.”
(Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377)