Urbanization: continuing, but rural populations are still large
In 1900, just 14.4% of the world lived in an urban area, and we had 20 cities with a million or more inhabitants. Today, we have tipped: over 55% of the world (4.1 billion) lives in an urban area, and there are 522 cities with a million or more people. With the explosive growth of cities has come the explosive growth of urban poverty: 2.3 billion are “urban poor” and 1.2 billion are slum dwellers.
Clearly we are tilting toward urban ministries. There are 297 megacities (a million or more inhabitants) that are under 50% Christian. One of the growing trends in missiology is the recognition that cities, like peoples, are population segments that need to be engaged. Cities are “melting pots” of ethnicities; it can be essential to target the city as a whole rather than to try to engage each individual people group within the city (particularly as many groups that move into cities assimilate and lose their ethnic identity).
But at the same time, we must not forget that rural populations remain large. In a world of 7.5 billion, an urban population of 4.1 billion leaves a rural population of 3.4 billion. By 2050, this number will likely shrink, but only slightly: down to 3.3 billion.
For the next generation or two we must have both urban and rural strategies; we cannot abandon one for the other.