Demise of suburbia

What are the implications for churches (and church planting, and beltway mega churches) when we see the death of suburbia ?


Anonymous said...

The link in your article goes to 'Why I Like Nazarenes' and not to this section. Thought I'd let ya know!

I'm not sure I can be considered apart of the generation you are talking about (b. 89) but I can affirm in general your predictions, as I have noticed the same sentiments among others a few years older than myself in a position to move out of suburbia, and I myself also have the same mind-set that Adam and Christy at City-Life have toward ministry and 'downtown' living.

Kadie's Dad said...

I don't relate to the desire for "city living" I am gen xer who likes the suburbs. I agree that not having to drive everywhere would be great but I wouldn't trade that for parks and real backyards. But I have seen the trend you're talking about here in Cincinnati. The worst inner-city nieghborhood (over the rhine) is being revitalized and apartment buildings are going up everywhere.

Kadie's Dad said...

I think that the major hole in your theory is that it doesn't factor in fragmentation. When the suburbs were first created and the cities began to deteriate there were just a few cateogries of Americans. White. Black. Poor. Rich. Just 2 or 3 types of radio stations. Since then the US has fragmented into dozens of sub-sub-cultures with numerous options. Sure some will rebuild certain downtown areas in major cities and
some suburbs will deteriorate but some will stay strong. There won't be just 2 lifestyles but dozens, and some of them will be down town, some suburban or ex-urban, etc.

Kevin Wright said...

I'm glad to hear that your students are planning on moving into the city. I think that God will use their passion for urban living for divine purposes.

A few words of advice:

1. City life is not easy. Adam and Christy have stories that will shatter any romanticization of urban living. Sometimes we draw the bleakest situations in the most rosiest colors. After all, it is easy to do this when you are living in a university Disney Land.

2.) City life is filled with racial tension. If you're going to move into the city, do yourself a favor and pick up some books. Learn why cities look so heavily segregated today. Understand that the problem of race in America has not been solved and is in dire need of attention. There's a lot more to be said on this issue but it suffices to say that the issue of race cannot be dismissed.

3.) City life is not "Friends." In real life, cities struggle with the issue of affordable housing. Sure, it looks nice when stores move back downtown and coffee shops open up on every corner. But when this happens the existing residents often are forced out of their homes. Where will they go? Will your church merely exacerbate the situation by drawing more and more yuppies downtown?

Michael R. Cline said...

The theological trends of being "missional" and the "intentional community" movement (New Monasticism) has probably added a lot to this stream of thinking. If you took a poll of books being read in your class, I bet Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution or somet other New Monastic book would be near the top. The conviction that book can bring upon Millinials is hard to deny (and even some older generations. I know a few who have left their suburbian life just by reading that book!)

I think kevin gets at a major issue in his 3rd point. There is a tendency to simply "ghettoize" the urban trend. Rather than move into cities and bring spiritual and physical reconciliation, I think we will see a lot of inner city churches become the "hip" church of the new generation for people who think just like them. Church planting money will run out. Neighbors will vandalize property. And old habits will find their way through the doors until the church looks just the same as the one in the suburbs, except that's it's posh trendiness is more hidden and subtle.

I know here at Bethel, urban church planting is the focus. We even hired a dean of urban community development. I imagine IWU will follow suit much the same way if they haven't already.

Kurt A Beard said...

I think there are a few reasons this trend might not last long.
I've also seen several people become disillusioned with urban life. Groceries are more expensive with less selection. You probably can't grill out, you can't play catch with your son.

When I came through as a student the way to glory was working your way up in a mega church and writing a book. The market for glory there is full so people are looking elsewhere and are trending toward the 'untapped' city. By being an early adopter and growing a church in the city they have the chance to write a book and achieve glory.

The attitude people hate in the suburbs will follow them to the city when everyone else from the old neighborhood moves in.

As Kevin said there are still racial issues and these issues will often mean that the locals don't want some white kid from the suburb running their church. The churches they start will be filled with the same people they would have been 5 years before in the suburb.

Suburbs have outwitted this group by creating micro-cities. Just look at the plans for Carmel, Noblesville and Fishers Indiana. They all involve downtowns with multi story apartments, shopping and parks. It's city life without leaving home.

It is the new trend but I don't expect it to last long for the average student. The rare student will write a book about it and stay the course.

The AJ Thomas said...

Where I am living downtown is simply unaffordable for most people my age but we do love going downtown. We love it so much we planted a church there. We are a daughter congregation of a church that was planted on the far reaches of the suburbs back in the 70's. The church we used to have downtown died. We a re going back in. And we are not the only ones even in this relatively small city.

Anonymous said...

If your right, good old downtown First United Methodist Church in every city has a bright future!

Pastor Rod said...


The most important thing you mentioned in your article is that what you are seeing is not a generational phenomenon. Because of the boomer "pig in a python," we try to analyze everything in terms of age cohorts.

In my opinion, those distinctions are no longer the most important. People who can only think in those terms will miss the train.

I'm not sure that the movement from the suburbs to the city is the main factor, however. I suspect that it is one of the trends that tends to accompany the real shift taking place.

Other trends that are also a part of this shift are
moving from big to small,
moving from modern to "rooted,"
moving from slick to authentic,
moving from a focus on the rapture to a focus on the new heavens and new earth,
moving from a "it's all going to burn anyway" view of creation to a responsible stewardship view of creation,
moving from rigid organization to organic organization,
moving from hierarchical authority to relational authority,
moving from a low-demand, seeker-sensitive Christianity to a high-demand view of discipleship.

I'm not sure what the unifying theme is. But I think it is pretty safe to say that religious institutions will be caught flatfooted.


::athada:: said...

Can I be a pallbearer?


::athada:: said...

And coach, since I know you are doc-happy, be sure to check out "The End of Suburbia" this summer. Has to do with the peak oil side of suburban lifestyles.


Christy... said...

What a fun discussion! Some more observations:

* I see this happening in real life... Adam & I talk about if someday we'll have to move City Life to the suburbs in order to keep reaching our population.

* When people in our area get on their feet, they move to the suburb south of us. Kentwood is quickly becoming as diverse as Grand Rapids, & Kentwood's becoming increasingly lower income & dealing w/ more crime issues. Kentwood Community Church was once what some would describe as a "typical suburban (Wesleyan) mega-church", but they are rising to the occasion, pushing diversity & hiring a diverse staff, & doing *many* ministries with "the least of these." They're an example of a mega-church that is in touch with their changing community & rising to the occasion!

* Diversity is a huge factor in this conversation. My greatest fear as I see this trend happen is that racial reconciliation will not happen & the "haves" will (once again) push out the "have-nots." We will know that urban renewal is successful when communities become less segregated and less gentrified, rather than just moving the wealth and the ethnicities around.

* "City living" doesn't mean you don't have a yard. We have one. It's small. But our kiddo can play in grass & our giant dog can run. (But actually getting the grass to grow in the first place was quite a feat.) Kids play catch too--they throw a football in the street.

* The "cool factor" always needs to be ministry with "the least of these"--no matter where they are.

* Personally, I love GOOD public transportation! I wish we had even more of it.

* Also personally...while I LOVE urban living, I really, really miss suburban shopping. Our grocery store is the "ghetto store" in the chain. I truly delight in shopping in a clean, eye-pleasing grocery store. Sigh. Sometimes I drive 15 minutes away to the suburbs to grocery shop b/c I just want the experience. :)

* I also wanted to add: I love the mega-church!!!! Those who want to plant churches or do urban ministry should NOT do it if the reason is that they have a bone to pick w/ the established church. Bad reason. It is precisely because of mega-churches that City Life exists. Mega-churches in our district have not only provided financial support, but they've also:
--provided us with advice when we've asked
--given us leadership lessons when needed
--provided mentoring opportunities
--invited our church to attend their special "extras" like Christmas programs, women's conferences, small group leaders' trainings, etc.
--provided us with needed prayer support when we had few mature pray-ers in the church
--helped us define new ministries, like starting an overseas missions ministry and providing us with children's curriculum

...And...it was IN the mega-church I grew up in that I was exposed to missions, taught to have a heart for the poor, offered opportunities to go on mission trips, given the chance to experience "the best" in church life.... It is precisely because of all I was given in the mega-church that I was prepared for urban planting.

So I know that was a little off topic, but I think it's important for people who are in the process of "rejecting the suburban church" to see this side too.

Thanks for this discussion!

Keith Drury said...

Link sent from Rod Crossman... to Robert Neuwirth’s TED TALK on international “shadow cities” or “squatter cities” for an interenational perspective.

::athada:: said...

TED is incredible! Thanks for the link Coach.

Bitty said...

First, I HATE urban sprawl. I think mismanagement of land development, though not a sin, is something that should be addressed by responsible, thinking Christians, because I see it happening so tragically in central Kentucky - away go the horse farms, rolling hills, and blooming redwoods: in comes Lowe's, Applebee's, and ugly dentist's offices. So asking what consitutes redemptive city planning is probably a good question, whether you live downtown, in the suburbs, or the country. I wish the people who gripe about preserving Alaskan landscape would join our local zoning committee!

Second, totally agree that the push for "Intentional community" is having a HUGE impact on student thinking: just immediately off the top of my head I can think of two different friends who deliberately moved into downtown or rundown areas and are involved in ministries with their neighbors or communities. Both, as a side note, are women.

Third: observation. Downtowns a) have history and b) are "real". No "American Beauty" lawncare there. And it has more stability than something built ten years ago. It's cool to be in a place with story, and in some ways, it's reassuring. That's part of why I like older architecture, older homes.