The Great Commission frames the church’s mission in the world, but that world is changing fast. Just consider the fact that, for the first time in human history, most people live in cities.
The human future is an urban future. In one of the greatest social shifts of all human history,over half of all living humans now inhabit cities. Driven by population shifts, immigration, and human reproduction, massive new cities are springing up all over the globe. Will the church rise to this challenge?
The answer to that question will largely determine the future of Christian missions. At the same time, this is not the first time that the Christian church has found itself faced with the challenge of the city. A quick look at the New Testament will reveal that first-century Christianity was, by and large, concentrated in the cities of the Roman Empire. These earliest churches were established in cities like Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and, of course, both Jerusalem and Rome. The churches established in these strategic cities became the launching pads for missions and church planting.
Similarly, the Reformation of the church in the sixteenth century was an urban movement, emerging in the cities of Switzerland and Germany. The cities were host to the emerging universities of the Middle Ages and to the flowering culture of the Renaissance. The cities were where the Industrial Revolution happened and where churches pioneered new forms of ministry in the great nineteenth-century cities of London, Birmingham,Chicago, and New York.
Fully 70% of all Chinese will live in cities of more than 1 million people by the year 2025. By 2030, China alone will count at least 220 cities with populations exceeding 1 million. At the same time, India will have 68 cities of similar population size. Together, India and China will add over 600 million city dwellers within the next twenty years — about the same populations as if the total populations of the United States and Brazil were added together.
China will have to add at least 40 billion square meters of living space within the next two decades. Traffic jams in India may point to 5-hour daily commutes as the norm. By 2025, China is likely to have 880 million daily commuters in its cities.
The cities were the strategic platforms for ministry and missions in the first century, but the last century and more has been a time of retreat in terms of Christian impact in many of the world’s great cities. The twentieth century was, in terms of Western cities, a period of radical secularization. While Harvard theologian Harvey Cox’s 1965 blockbuster The Secular City was controversial, its title was not.
Evangelicals now face the great challenge of these massive Western cities, filled with populations marked by great diversity in terms of ethnicity, language, worldview, and culture. Thankfully, there are standout examples of faithful church planting and ministry in many of these cities, but the populations remain overwhelmingly secular and unevangelized. Jump from the cities of the West to places like Africa, China, and India, and you will find even greater challenges, along with far greater populations. How will global Christianity respond to this challenge?
This represents the urgency of the questions the church now faces as we look to the challenge of global missions. Though the Gospel never changes, the contexts of our Great Commission task do change. Indeed, they are changing before our very eyes.
This is what makes The Southern Baptist Journal of Missions and Evangelism so timely. This new journal will address the most pressing theological, biblical, demographic, cultural, anthropological, and strategic issues of our day – the very issues that are even now reshaping the missionary task. Produced by the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary, this new journal will be a trusted voice, a bold advocate for missions, and a context for serious theological and biblical engagement.
We are very proud of this new journal, and we invite you to join with us as we grapple with the most urgent Great Commission issues of our times. What could be more important than this task?