Love Where You Live
The front porch is back. A growing number of buyers are asking for designs that include the iconic hometown amenity, according to Chicago Tribune interviews with building contractors. Front porches provide families and friends with a place to gather while they keep an eye on the kids. By facilitating small talk, they build local community. And local community is no small accomplishment with so many reasons to stay inside and watch television, surf the Web, or play video games. The front porch's comeback suggests that some people have found no suitable substitute for knowing their neighbors.
If the latest figures on geographic mobility are any indication, we would be wise to make nice with those neighbors. Despite commercial air travel, interstate highways, mobile phones, and e-mail, the mobility rate has declined steadily since the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking such data in 1948. In the aftermath of World War II, as suburbs began sprouting from farmland, a record 21.2 percent of Americans moved between 1950 and 1951. But only 13.2 percent of Americans moved between 2006 and 2007. Then in April 2009, the Census Bureau reported that a mere 11.9 percent of Americans moved in 2008. This rate was the lowest in recorded U.S. history, and the 1.3 percent drop between 2007 and 2008 was the second-largest one-year decline. The number rebounded only barely in 2009, to 12.5 percent.
With more Americans than ever staying put, I visited three churches—one urban, one suburban, and one rural—to see how the body of Christ is loving where its members live.
Approaching Chicago's old Cabrini-Green neighborhood, Salvation Army resale shops and storefront Pentecostal churches gradually give way to upscale bars and new condominiums. Once home to America's most notorious public housing project, Cabrini-Green has gentrified. Gone are the high-rise buildings that blotted Chicago's skyline just one mile from Michigan Avenue's upscale shops.
The neighborhood's new kid on the block matches the community's retooled profile. If you're a single 20-something Christian living in Chicago, there's a good chance you attend Park Community Church. The nondenominational church's immaculate new auditorium offers a panoramic view of the Chicago skyline. But on one summer Sunday evening, the curtains were drawn and the lights dimmed to create a club-like, intimate worship experience.
After a few songs, a pastor asked the congregation to arrange themselves according to neighborhood. Park's congregation is composed of people from across the city. A layout of the auditorium appeared on the video screens, with sections labeled by neighborhood. The largest block encompassed popular neighborhoods for urbane young professionals, including Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville.
Pastor Jackson Crum preached about what it means to be a good neighbor—a timely topic for the church, which had moved into its new facility one year earlier. He asked the church to imagine what Chicago would look like if the winds of revival blew through. He said the neighborhood is already buzzing about Park. The church's auditorium had recently hosted graduation for Jenner Academy, a nearby elementary school. Park has drawn from its deep well of highly educated members to find mentors for the schoolchildren.
But Park's greatest strength—its vibrant youth—is also its most daunting challenge. Many members are hardly older than the church, founded nearly 20 years ago. And contrary to the national trend, every year some of the church's most active, giving members relocate as their attention turns to marriage and kids. When a pastor recognized the dads on Father's Day, no more than 10 in the crowd of hundreds stood.