So just as an intellectual exercise, let’s make a bold prophecy for the 2040s or so. Imagine a near future US where a state’s population corresponds to its degree of urbanization, and thus to its relative secularity. Imagine the most thriving regions of church loyalty being concentrated strongly in The Rest, those 34 states containing thirty percent of the nation’s people, especially in the Midwest and the Upper South. The metroplexes, in contrast, are very difficult territory indeed for believers of any kind, a kind of malarial swamp of faith. A situation much like contemporary Europe, in fact.
Catholics, of course, face special issues in this Imminent America, and all depends on how far they can retain the loyalty of that very large Latino presence.
Hmm, planning a church for the hyper-urban future ….
These are enormously complex demographic issues that every thoughtful Christian should be considering. I wonder whether the existing national structure of Christian denominations can survive a future in which the 16 states of Metroplex America and the 34 states of The Rest experience greater and greater cultural divergence. It might be that the forms of faithful Christian living in the one context look very different than those in the other, even when there is substantial theological agreement.
I’m inclined to think that every church that wants to live into the urban future should read the work of Mark Gornik, especially his book on African Christianity in New York City — an amazing tale. Very few people would believe just how many Christians there are in New York, especially (but not only) from the African diaspora. There are wonderfully thriving Christian communities that fly wholly under the radar of our cultural attention, and will probably never be noticed by the culture at large. But Christians who want to bear witness into the future ought to notice them.
And City Seminary, of which Mark was a founder, should be observed also, especially as a model for how to train bivocational Christian leaders for a world in which full-time ministry will, in all likelihood, be rarer and rarer.