Top Ten Mission Trends in the 21st Century: Urban Context of Missions

Many people still conceive of the typical mission field as a remote jungle area with half-dressed natives who have never heard of a telephone, much less the gospel of Jesus Christ.[1] This mental paradigm has been reinforced through the biographies of Western missionaries from the 19th century who often did live in remote areas with peoples whose lives seemed to be unchanged by the modern world.  However, global demographics have dramatically changed since the turn of the 19th century when only 4% of the entire world lived in urban areas.  Today nearly half of the world live in urban areas (See, Chart B).[2] In fact, the largest cities in the world are no longer found in Europe, but in the non-Western world.  Great cities such as Tokyo, Jakarta, Lagos, Delhi and Cairo represent the new face of the mission field.[3] These are people who more often than not already belong to a major world religion like Islam or Hinduism.  The lost peoples of the world today are more likely to carry cell phones than spears.  What are the implications for this?  Much of our missionary preparation is still based on sending people to remote areas.  We still show missionary videos at our conferences which reinforce this notion.  Our church planting strategies are often based on reaching rural peoples and starting churches in non-urban areas.  We need to focus more on the great sprawling cities of the world where most un-reached people groups now live.  We need to pray that God would give this next generation of missionaries a real heart for the cities.  It is no understatement to say that the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled until we learn to embrace the city!
Chart B


[1] This image is re-confirmed in many ways missionaries are presented to the church.  See, for example, the front cover of the Bob Jones University Review (Winter 2002).
[2] Barrett, Johnson, ed., World Christian Encyclopedia, vol. 1, col. 27-29, page 883.  In the World Christian Encyclopedia, this data is analyzed into three constituent parts:  rural, urban and metropolitan.
[3] According to United Nations projections, the top ten most populated cities in the world in 2015 will be:  Tokyo (28.7), Bombay (Mumbai) (27.4), Lagos (24.4), Shanghai (23.4), Jakarta (21.2), Sāo Paulo (20.8), Karachi (20.6), Beijing (19.4), Dhaka (19.0) and Mexico City (18.8).  All figures are given in millions.  See, Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom, 93.


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