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How are urban Missional Communities different than other MCs?

March 15, 2012

Each week, via a short, 2-3 minute video we try to answer one practical question that we hear lots of people asking. Our hope is that these will be helpful, but will also spur on conversation and more questions in the comment section. If you want to keep digging around with questions related to this topic, post the comment, and we’ll be interacting with these daily.

Today’s question is answered by Jo Saxton, who I’ve known for more than 17 years and who has served on my teams for almost that long. She is a BRILLIANT leader and for this post is looking at the differences between urban Missional Communities and others in suburban or rural contexts.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. videolin permalink
    March 15, 2012 5:54 pm

    I live in an affluent suburb but work with high school kids in an urban setting where 22 different languages are spoken and completely agree with Jo. Very articulate and to the point, thanks.

  2. March 15, 2012 7:04 pm

    I definitely agree that the depravity is the same in the suburbs as in the city and that the need for our Savior is the same. However, I do think there are key cultural differences between geographical contexts. This can range from what “on-time” is defined as, to access to culture-making, to access to education to how ethnically diverse an area is.

    I know too often the city is painted as an evil, depraved location that desperately needs a savior and I hear Jo wanting to push back against that, because 1) both are depraved and 2) the city is actually quite Godly and beautiful. But, it’s important not to understate the differences as well.

  3. March 15, 2012 8:34 pm

    Thanks 3DM for all you do. I’ve been served well by you all.

    I live in the middle of the city of Chicago and have been involved with MC’s here for the past couple years. I would definitely agree with Jo on many of her points in the short video (Jo btw I loved your talk at Verge:) I agree with:

    *Urban & Suburban both need a Savior
    *The rhythms of Up, In and Out work brilliantly in both urban & suburb areas
    * People in the inner city have their drug addictions but so do those in the suburbs, it just often comes in different forms.

    Yep, yep, yep.

    However, there wasn’t much mention (I know it was a 2min video:) of the different challenges urban MC’s face, such as:

    *Density: The amount of people living in close proximity in the city cannot be matched in the suburbs and therefore thinking through the how and who of MC’s is a bit different. For example, having a MC of 20-50 as 3dm describes in its definition of what a MC is is nearly impossible. Getting 20 (much less 50) people to meet in our spaces, which are much smaller than suburban spaces, is not going to be possible. Therefore, MC’s must be smaller and think differently on how to live out rhythms together in a dense area.

    *Diversity: Although the ethnic, socio-economic and religious makeup of suburbs is changing rapidly to reflect that of the urban setting, there is still a greater amount of diversity in the urban setting. Every day your going to pass panhandlers, experience racism, see muslims, etc. You can’t escape the diversity. My neighborhood for example has on one street housing projects and on the next street million dollar single-family homes. And the school behind me is 100% african american while a school 6 blocks away is mixed ethnically and costs a college tuition to attend. The building I live in is a mixed-income building and is one of the most ethnically diverse buildings I’ve ever been in. So being aware, sensitive and intentional with mission together is going to bring forward some unique challenges here for us.

    *Pace: City life is just faster. So discipleship Along the Way, as we go is VERY important. There’s always an event happening, or traffic, and people don’t stop and slow down. So we in the city obviously want to preach and practice the rhythm of Up, in communion with God, Sabbath Rest, etc…but it is a unique challenge for us. Trying to get a MC on the same page to live out life together is often very challenging because of the pace of life in the city.

    So that’s just a few ways I’d add that urban life is a bit different than suburb life or at least more intense. The implications for MC’s in the urban setting are quite real and challenging. I’m still learning though, and I look forward to learning more from folks like 3dm and Soma.


  4. March 15, 2012 9:25 pm

    This is good stuff Jo. Thanks for addressing the issue (and great to finally meet you at Verge). I think another part of the conversation is the impact of gentrification on our urban centers. For example, one might think that “urban” ministry in downtown Austin means high crime, drugs, low income ministry… but on the contrary (outside of the homeless population) most of downtown Austin is extremely expensive and now mainly high rise condo’s. As with anything, we might first need to define what “urban” means in order to have an “apples and apples” conversation. So often the poor are found on the fringe of our cities… location and type of need might not always go hand-in-hand with our preconceptions. As missionaries to our culture, we MUST learn to see need and learn how to engage actual need not perceived need. You said it well, and Mother Teresa said something similar: There are physical, spiritual, and emotional needs in EVERY community. I wrote a blog not long ago I thought I’d add to the conversation. Maybe it will be found helpful to the conversation:

    • March 16, 2012 1:36 am

      Thanks for stopping by Brandon! Wonderful contribution. Excellent blog post. Hope everyone checks it out.

  5. March 16, 2012 3:40 pm

    Hi everyone – great to read all your comments, and Brandon’s blog post as we continue to explore these key ideas together. I loved the breadth of understanding you’ve added to the video vignette! I agree that density is a key distinction for many areas of the country. That said, where I currently live in Southern California , the suburban sprawl is very urban in its texture, feel and density. We’ve had to put our suburban expectations to the side as we learned that distinctions between suburban and urban are blurring. I believe that the impact of gentrification has a lot to do with that

    As for we look at diversity, my hope is that this topic would increasingly be part of of our thinking and processing wherever we are, and not limited to urban mission. Its a conversation for missional communities in our suburbs, our sports clubs, our professional networks, for work amongst the urban poor and the wealthy. Whilst there may be a greater amount of ethnic diversity in our urban centers, as Sam rightly notes, there is increasing diversity in our suburbs too. The times are changing; may we be ready for all the missional opportunities that come our way!

  6. March 16, 2012 3:55 pm

    I’ve been doing MC’s and churches in urban/immigrant communities for well over 20 years now and before that I was in the suburban context. While there are indeed similarities between the urban and suburban context, the challenges are still different. The suburban context still tends to be more structured, which is a stabilizing factor for MC’s. It is very difficult for MC leaders and their churches to make the transition from suburban to urban context. If it weren’t, there would be lots more suburban to urban “success stories.” I believe that the key is to find and develop an indigenous leadership base.

    I do agree with Brandon that the poor aren’t only confined to the urban context, and that there is a great socio-economic diversity in center city, mid-city and outer ring communities. Perhaps greater socio-economic diversity and the more dynamic nature of urban communities make it different. Average household income levels are still very different between communities. There is also a big difference between ministry among urban professionals and among the urban poor.

    Related to economic challenges, one of the biggest limiting factors of growth of an MC or even a congregation in the urban context is the instability and transience of the households. Jo stated that there is transience to deal with in both, and maybe the only difference is the amount of time that people stay. I will tell you that even that small difference is what makes it difficult to build a solid base of indigenous leadership from within the community. In most of our MC’s, we disciple 6 families/individuals in order to retain one due to the transient nature of the community. Growth is slower.

    Also, when there isn’t financial stability in a community, crisis situations tend to arise more frequently that put a halt to all other household activities including regular gatherings with other disciples. Having no money to pay the light bill means that the top priority for a couple of days is to go get money somehow. A regular and sustaining income makes a big difference in the stability of the family, and thus, the stability of the MC.

    We’ve found the issue of transience to be true among refugees, immigrants, the poor as well as young adults renting near the urban center. In a way, it isn’t dissimilar to college ministry. This is why we shifted from trying to plant large urban churches to multiplying MC’s and family sized gatherings across the metro area. Our goal is that, no matter which community an individual moves to, there would be a community of believers or small congregation close by that fits their cultural context. This urban diaspora of sorts has fostered the multiplication of MC’s to different cities and countries as well. As disciples move to a new community, they begin to open up their home to their new community and Christ followers are formed and begin to gather.

    Things are evening out a little and the lines between urban and suburban are getting blurred. The socio-economic factor today is probably one of the greatest differentiators, no matter what geographical location one is working in.

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