While no two cities are alike and many suburbs now face challenges once only thought to exist in major cities, there remain unique challenges and opportunities in starting and leading a church in the city. I could mention a number of ways ministry is different in the city, but one of the most significant distinctions is the mobility of the people we are reaching.
Few Homeowners. The first two locations we have started in the city are comprised of fewer than 20% homeowners. The vast majority of the people rent their residences. Every 12 months these people are deciding whether or not to stay or move on. People don’t move simply because they found a better job in another city. Often people will initially land in one neighborhood, and for a variety of reasons, including reducing their rent, move to an entirely different neighborhood.
Single or Married with No Kids. Not only are the vast majority of our attenders renting their homes or apartments, most of them are single or married with no kids. One of our locations is made up of a two primary groups: 25-32 year-olds who are mostly single or newly married with no kids, and 45-55 year-olds who are empty-nesters. People in both of those demographics tend to be more independent and have fewer reasons to “stay put.” Their freedom offers them tremendous mobility.
Disposable Income. Much of our church in the city is comprised of single professionals or married with dual income and no kids. As a result, many of them have more disposable income than most people. This combination of no children and good income also gives them more freedom to come and go as they please. If the opportunity to spend the weekend away comes up, they are much more likely to go. What’s holding them back? It’s not usually a matter of money or children, so they go.
Initially, these realities can be daunting. Infrequent attendance and significant turnover can be discouraging. However, this mobility can also be an opportunity to re-envision what mission looks like in this context. Here are three opportunities we hope to leverage in serving this mobile population.
1) We are increasingly seeing our mission field well beyond the neighborhoods where God led us to begin in the city. We believe it is our role to equip this mobile population while they are with us, and then challenge them to continue to be on mission wherever God leads them. We may not see the results of our efforts, but we trust that what they gained while they were with us will impact their new community.
2) We are challenging our people to use their mobility as a way to expand the focus of their mission field. People with significant mobility and flexibility are more readily able to take short-term mission trips and use their available time to get to know the entire city. We challenge them to see these opportunities as a significant way to grow in their faith and have an impact both locally and globally.
3) We are learning what it will look like to reach people in the future. Reaching a mostly young, mobile, and often influential population gives us a sneak peak into how churches everywhere will need to adjust in order to reach our changing world. City-dwellers tend to be on the edge of culture and innovation. Working alongside these people gives us a front row seat into what mission may look like for years to come.