Theologian Al Mohler just wrote on the rise of “metacities”, stratospheric cities featuring around 20 million people with unvarying density, little infrastructure, and little sustained planning. The trend is highly noteworthy.
Mohler comments as follows:
As Stewart Brand argues, we are becoming a “city planet.” Vast populations are moving into huge international cities, drawn by the hope of a better life. As Brand notes, cities have always been wealth creators, and the exploding populations of the largest cities draw even more inhabitants with the hope of securing an economic future. “At the current rate,” Brand writes, “humanity may well be 80 percent urban by mid-century. Every week there are 1.3 million new people in cities. That’s 70 million a year, decade after decade.”
This represents a truly incalculable transformation of human life.
The metacities include Lagos, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Mexico City. Many are in the global South. I learned from Mohler’s article that New York City, seemingly grand beyond scale, is actually already dwarfed by many of these cities.
Mohler highlights the missiological challenges of these sprawling environs:
These new metacities will shape the future and, by extension, all of us. The Financial Times produced this important report with primary concern for the future of the cities as engines of economic development and political innovation. Christians must look to this report with a sober acknowledgment that the church is falling further behind in the challenge of reaching the cities. The emergence of these vast new metacities will call for a revolution in missiology and ministry.
This much is clear — the cities are where the people are. In the course of less than 300 years, our world will have shifted from one in which only 3 percent of people live in cities, to one in which 80 percent are resident in urban areas.
Can you imagine a 20-million person city? Really? Well, there are many of them. That’s a mind-boggling reality. There are serious challenges before the church of the twenty-first century–and, as Mohler and Keller point, serious opportunities. Maybe church planters need to look beyond their hometown and their favorite locale to the massive metacities in which untold millions of people work and live and struggle.
These metacities, after all, are populated primarily not with slick young professionals but with men and women and children living subsistence lives. In reading this piece, I really wonder if we are not seeing a massive transformation of missions. Historic missions often have involved–at least as many of us think of them–modern people going to premodern settings. Surely, much of the world still lives in such settings, but this is rapidly shifting.
In the future, if the Financial Times article is correct, missionaries and church planters who have a massive vision of God and His work in the world will need, perhaps, to prioritize the teeming global cities to which once agrarian people are flowing. Tons of missionaries are still needed for agrarian, isolated settings, but many must go to the metacities–not to make a name for themselves, not so that they can fall in with the upwardly mobile, but so that they can minister to hordes of lost sinners who swarm into cities in search of hope they cannot find without the gospel.