Coincidence? I hope so.

Coincidence?  I hope so.

We now witness a countless number of predominantly white young professionals moving to and planting roots in urban areas.  We also witness a record number of church plants by Protestant, white, young professionals in urban areas.

At the same time, we witness the movement of many upwardly mobile African Americans to the suburbs of those same urban areas and, ironically, record levels of poverty in the suburbs where hard times have hit people of all races.  

In summary, “a great inversion is taking place as urban centers spring back to life and suburbs become the new home of the poor” (Michael Luce, “The Future of American Cities,” Chicago Tribune June 20, 2013).  

My question: Is it a coincidence that those movements are taking place at the same time? I don’t have an answer for that question.I have but a lifetime of experience watching a generation or two of “white flight” and of watching upwardly mobile people establish new communities far away from the poor.

My experience encourages me to probe deeper into, at least, the fact that blacks and whites don’t often wind up in the same communities. One moves in and the other moves out; one moves out and the other moves in.  While there are exceptions, those broad generalizations are supported by demographic statistics.

I also know many young adults, including my own children, who have moved to urban areas and serve active roles in church plants, as well as many African Americans who have moved from urban areas to suburbs. Finally, for but a short season, I was one of the suburban poor and know many such folk.  As a result of this exposure, I have seen:

  • New urban congregations filled with young, upwardly mobile professionals intentionally step into opportunities to relieve the plight of the poor.
  • New predominantly white urban congregations take strategic steps to become multiethnic.
  • Relatively new suburban Protestant congregations establish vital (often multiethnic) congregations which minister to the whole person.

But here is what I would like to see more of:

  • Established suburban congregations adapting to their new reality. Many still assume that pockets of poverty only exist in urban areas.  Will more suburban congregations begin ministering to the poor in their communities?
  • Dynamic partnerships between established urban congregations and new urban congregations. I hope we don’t witness many more waves of parachuting white, young, upwardly mobile professionals into up and coming urban centers. Wouldn’t it be great if, in the future, more folk move into a community (perhaps an impoverished one), walk into an established church, and offer themselves in service to that congregation?  Or, as another option, ask the established congregations how they might partner together in ministry?  

But my questions remain:  Is it a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that we are now witnessing a significant percentages of whites moving back to the city and blacks moving out of the city? Is it a coincidence that many predominantly white Protestant congregations are being planted in revitalized urban centers while the suburbs become the new home of the poor?

I hope so. If it is not a coincidence, I hope that further probing of this reality will discover motivations more noble than those which, in the past, engendered prejudice against the poor and fueled mass migrations of peoples. Love for God and love for neighbor come to mind. 

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