Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why the fuss about cities?

What do you think of cities? It's a kind of Marmite thing probably. You either love them or hate them. If you don't live in a city then cities can be noisy, dirty, dangerous, unfriendly sprawls or they can be bright lights, vibrant, exciting and where it's at. Mostly cities are both of those things at the same time.

Secondly of course it depends how you define a 'city'. Tim Keller defined a city in two ways - one is a regional hub, where the roads lead to and gave the example of Inverness (pop 40,949) as the city of the Highlands of Scotland. It's not a big place like London or New York but it is the place where arts, commerce, law, markets etc... meet. Keller's second definition was that a city is a multi function place where people live, work, eat, engage in arts etc...he made the point that the village has more in common with the city than the suburbs in that respect.

It's hard to argue with the strategic importance of cities so I'm not really going to try. Cities are the economic powerhouses, the places where arts, commerce, law etc are all at their most innovative and generally they're the hub that connect the regional spokes. They also have the greatest concentration of people. You can't ignore the cities. However cities tend to ignore the suburbs and to an even greater extent rural areas (at least big cities do - rural hubs like Inverness or my town of Shrewsbury perhaps less so) and city churches are invariably not really interested in places with small populations.

Keller believes that if the concentration of Christians in a city hits a tipping point (and I've yet to hear an example of such a place) then the surrounding area inevitably tips with it and mission spills over. Well, maybe. The anecdotal evidence is not encouraging. We have to admit that on a strategy level Keller is speculating, he hopes he's right and he may well be but you can't be more certain than that at this point.

Keller also contends that the cities are underserved by the church and I'm not sure there's evidence to back that claim up in the UK. While they may not be 'served' enough they are unquestionably better served than towns, suburbs and villages in the UK where in many places the church has all but disappeared. Take my suburb for example 20,000 people and 200-250 believers. If Keller's right about tipping points there should be somewhere between 2-4000 Christians in my suburb or 7-8000 across the town. Hmmm.

So off the top of my head I'd put the yeast in the dough up against tipping points as a biblical image for the church, which will be the focus of the next post. Is Keller right that the purposes of God in Scripture are really city focused?


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