World Population Tips Toward City Life

by Erich Bridges

Sometime in the coming year-and for the first time in history-more people will live in cities than in rural areas.

The movement of humanity into cities might never reverse. According to demographic forecasters, we face an "urban future," with all its challenges and opportunities.

"As recently as the early 20th century, the vast majority of the world's people lived in the countryside and practiced subsistence farming," writes Christopher Flavin, president of Worldwatch Institute. "By 2005, the world's urban population of 3.18 billion people constituted 49 percent of the total (global) population of 6.46 billion."

Surpassing the 50-percent-urban total, Flavin adds, will mark "a significant milestone on the long road of civilization."

Consider these numbers and projections:

20 cities or metro areas have populations of more than 10 million. But much of future growth will come in smaller cities (500,000 people and under).

In China, 200 million people (the equivalent of two-thirds of the U.S. population) have migrated from the countryside to cities over the last 10 years.

Every second, two people move from rural areas to cities.

Half of all Asians and Africans will live in cities by 2030.

The number of squatters living in urban slums and "shadow cities" will double to 2 billion within a generation.

88 percent of human population growth in the years 2000-2030 will occur in cities in developing countries.

How will cities-even in developed countries-find or produce sufficient food, water, housing, energy, jobs, healthcare, education and infrastructure for so many people? Government, business, and community leaders are looking for answers to that question with increasing urgency.

The increasingly urgent question for missions: How will so many city dwellers hear the gospel? Simply locating and identifying them, and their myriad communities and subcultures, is becoming a daunting challenge.

"There are 380 urban centers in the world with populations above 1 million, and we've only got 120 in our database," says Jim Haney, director of the Global Research Department for the International Mission Board (IMB)."And there are cities within cities. People migrating to cities seek enclaves of others with whom they have some affinity-same people group, same language, same religion, or some other commonality."

Sometimes they maintain distinct, separate communities. Sometimes they mingle and form new groups. Either way, such groupings may multiply into millions of members, each subgroup struggling to gain and maintain its place in society.

Mumbai (Bombay), for instance, isn't just India's largest city. It is a world unto itself-many worlds, in fact. More than 17 million people are jammed into Mumbai's 180-square-mile peninsula, and 700 babies are born there each day. On its sidewalks and packed commuter trains, you can rub shoulders with stock traders, beggars, college students, Muslims, Marathis, Gujaratis, Punjabis, Tamils, Kashmiris, Bengalis, Assamese, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsees, Jains.

"Daily more than 300 people migrate to Mumbai from villages, towns, and cities all over the country in search of a future, in search of hope for a better life for themselves and their families," says a Christian worker. "Thousands believe they have found what they are looking for. Millions have not."

How do believers even begin to grapple with such a challenge?

"We look at the city and wonder what it will take to change its heartbeat-one that doesn't pulse for Jesus," the worker says. "We know that God's desire is that all people bow at His feet in worship, but we see people daily bowing instead before almost anything else.... This city is our passion. Pray that God will change unbelieving hearts-miraculously, contagiously."

IMB workers and their partners are seeking creative ways to reach the people groups and subcultures within cities. Other Great Commission groups are working toward the same end.

"We need to receive this gift [migration to the cities] that God has set before us and use it to take the gospel to the mass of people in the cities around the world," says a mission strategist. "For so long, life in the rural world has shaped our missions efforts. Now we live in an urban world and our methods to reach people must change. We must love the city as God does."

Baptist Press

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