The New Urban Crisis and the Hinterlands

After years of tracking, studying, and writing about this back-to-the-city movement of people and church planting in city centers came the shocking awareness of the reality of the growing inequities and disparities in these very settings. As educated white collar workers flocked to the urban core on its heels came (and is still coming) an army of church planters to reach these neo-bohemians.

I began voicing my growing disillusionment in what has become a manifesto of sorts in my book Urban Hinterlands: Planting the Gospel in Uncool PlacesThroughout the book I wrestled through the implications that most often the determining factor for where new churches are being planted is tied to livability. "But should livability be the determining factor for where we plant new churches? What if we asked that question or applied our logic in the cities of the developing world? at means in places like Lima, Mexico City, Caracas, or Bogotá we would only see new churches planted among the affluent and the shantytowns would be neglected. Is that congruent with the Gospel?" (p. 63)

Since the early 2000s I have been a fan of economist Richard Florida's research and writings. He helped me think through why this back-to-the-city movement is taking place and who's moving in. Also, in virtually every class I have ever taught, whether undergrad courses on urban history to seminary classes on church planting, I cite Florida and even show videos clips from his various interviews. Florida's latest book The New Urban Crisis:How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It has become a course correction of sorts. Meaning, this in-migration of white collar workers certainly "revitalized" the urban cores of cities around the world, but the unintended consequences are now before us .... gentrification, displacement, shrinking middle class, growing unaffordability of cities, affordable housing crisis, class stratification, and more. Central cities are now the dwelling place and playground of the affluent. Over the past decade suburban poverty has far outpaced urban poverty. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

What about the hinterlands? A "hinterland" can be defined as "an area lying beyond what is visible or known." In the realm of ministry, and church planting in particular, it refers to those places that are on the receiving end of this urban crisis. These are the downtrodden, uncool, and lower income places in our cities (and beyond) that are fielding people who are and have been displaced through gentrification, unaffordable housing, and the like. These also happens to be the prime locales when it comes to places where we want to work for Intrepid.

City centers have no trouble garnering the attention and affection of church planters far and wide, but the hinterlands ... that's another story. This is why we're recasting ministry in these settings in a missionary framework rather than conventional church planting framework. Meaning, what does it look like to think and act like a missionary in these settings? How do we seek the betterment of these communities, just like we do when we land in informal human settlement in today's global megacities?

While we may be in the throes of this new urban crisis it also means that opportunities abound to live out and proclaim the gospel.