Contrary to the view that large cities in America are spiritual wastelands, recent research on the country's Protestant congregations reveals that about half of the 40 fastest-growing ones are in major cities.

The more familiar facts, however, point to the slow decline and death of many historic urban congregations. The problems of older center-city congregations have overwhelmed their resources and abilities. For many of these churches, there have been dramatic changes in their neighborhood's ethnic mix and a decline in theological distinctivenes. Some of these churches have become community-unfriendly, commuter congregations with an out-of-touch membership.

THE NEW URBAN FRONTIER

One critical choice confronting urban congregations has been answering the question: Stay or relocate? And the good news for city dwellers is that more churches are suppressing their instinct to flee, seeing themselves called to minister in "the new urban frontier."

Yet urban churches cannot do the job alone. Three groups of ministry partners--suburban churches, parachurch organizations, and denominational agencies--should come alongside the inner-city church. In Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and other cities, urban churches are partnering with these other organizations to create community-friendly congregations. In addition, church members are in some cases relocating and rehabbing inner-city neighborhoods, thereby grasping the possibilities for renewed urban communities.

Inner-city churches and ministries need more people like Bob Lupton of Atlanta's Summerhill neighborhood. His vision for "re-neighboring" a poverty-stricken area of Atlanta has spawned new ministries and housing, and revitalized church outreach. Although all Christians have ...

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