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International missions is shifting focus to urban centers, following migration patterns that in 2008 indicated that more than half the world's population lives in cities.

Fewer than 30 percent of the world's 2.5 billion people in 1950 lived in cities. By 2050, almost 70 percent of the world's estimated 10 billion people will do so, according to the United Nations.

"As the escalation of global urbanization has taken place, so has the urbanization of mission work," said Doug McConnell, dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Both local and full-time missionaries from the West are moving urban, he said.

"The world is connected, and what breaks my heart is that we are doing 21st-century missions with an 18th-century mindset and methodology," said Bob Roberts, pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, and an advocate for "glocal" ministry. "The heart of the spread of the gospel has always been in cities … since the days of Jerusalem and Antioch and Rome and then London. It has not changed, regardless of where the agencies have focused. Cities are central."

Fuller has seen so much interest in urban ministry that it recently combined two smaller programs on the topic into one larger one and expanded it, said McConnell.

The International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention is also concentrating more on cities, engaging 30 new urban centers in 2008 (up from 7 in 2007), including 27 cities with populations over 1 million.

"We've had an international global research team working to see where people are, so the fact that this has happened has not caught us by surprise," said IMB spokesperson Wendy Norvelle.

Scott A. Bessenecker, associate director of missions for InterVarsity, ...

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In the Magazine

August 2010

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