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The longstanding pattern of suburban churches assisting innercity ministries is starting to reverse.

"Historically, folks have driven into the inner city and done volunteer work, but now the poor are increasingly coming their direction," said Bob Lupton, president of Atlanta-based FCS Urban Ministries. "Suburban churches are looking to those with experience in urban ministry to help them develop appropriate responses."

Gentrification is pushing more and more of America's poor from inner cities to the suburbs. Last year the number of poor in major-metro suburbs increased by 53 percent, but only by 23 percent in major-metro cities, according to the 2010 census. Suburbs now house one-third of the nation's poor.

"It's changing the landscape of those suburban communities," said Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). "Their neighborhoods are now becoming impacted by poverty in a way that they never were before."

One challenge is suburbs often lack the social services that facilitate low-income life in cities, said Wayne Gordon, lead pastor of Lawndale Community Church, whose neighborhood was once ranked the nation's 15th poorest. "We've got mass transportation," he said. "[But] if you don't have a car and you live in Ford Heights [a poor suburb], you are really going to struggle."

Another challenge is not repeating the same mistakes urban ministries have learned to avoid. "Unfortunately, many suburban churches who become engaged with the needy are creating one-way charity programs that produce dependency," said Lupton. "Programs that experienced urban ministries have abandoned as more hurtful than helpful."

Increasingly, suburban ministries are joining city-focused organizations such as the ...

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Trading Spaces: Inner City Helps the Suburbs
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November 2011

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