The Success of Urban Churches Gives Us Hope for All ChurchesOct 25, 2023
The Church should be a place of safety and hope for all people. For those struggling with unintended pregnancy, they may not feel this way. This hope propels us forward on this important work. We know churches aren’t perfect. But we see the Church as the answer to the isolation and anxiety that can come with an unintended pregnancy. This optimism felt justified after reading the new study from World Impact and the Barna Group: Inside the Urban Church – How Local Congregations Engage with and Impact Their Communities (October 2023). The study stretched across eight U.S. metropolitan areas. They polled pastors, community and civic leaders, and residents, both who do and do not attend a church. Let’s discuss what the study reveals and why it expresses hope for all churches and all Christians.
What is an Urban Church?
There are many different interpretations of the word. So, what did the study mean when they said "urban churches"? The Barna Group and World Impact defined “urban” to apply to any area that meets the metrics set by the U.S. Census Bureau. This is an area that includes 425 housing units per square mile. By this metric, an urban church is one who is in a zip code where housing meets this threshold.
Barna’s research aimed to capture the relationship between urban-area churches and the communities they serve and impact. The study was conducted in eight cities:
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Los Angeles, California
- Portland, Oregon
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Chicago, Illinois
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Houston, Texas
“Barna selected these metros to be geographically representative of the U.S. as well as representative of various dynamics of urban life, such as city size, racial composition, economic legacy and structures of the built environment.” (Inside the Urban Church, page 8).
What Are the Main Takeaways of the Study?
The study revealed that urban churches are doing some major things well. This sets them apart from their non-urban church counterparts in important ways. Some churches have found that attendance has declined in recent years. People also reported feeling less confident in church leadership. But a strong majority of urban churchgoers in the study reported the opposite. They stated that they trusted the congregation to act in the church’s best interest. Plus, they noted that their church leadership is very responsive. Also, members of urban churches “feel like valuable members of the city and have more frequent volunteering habits” (Inside the Urban Church, page 5).
How The Church Interacts with The Under-resourced
The study also found a commonality between urban residents who do and do not attend churches. It found that both groups believe that the Church can address loneliness. Citizens often view urban churches as good neighbors and community members. This role includes providing services, including counseling, mentoring, daycare, English-language education, and schooling. “Research on congregations in low-income communities shows that when churches provide social services, the primary targets of those efforts are aimed at the community, not just the church members. These churches are important agents for providing stability and social support for residents of low-income neighborhoods.16 ” (Inside the Urban Church, page 47).
How The Church Interacts with Gen Z
Other studies found that Gen Z believe churches are less responsive to social issues. But Gen Z churchgoers in urban areas feel their churches can address some injustices. The study also found that urban churches and Gen Z struggle to connect. “Gen Z residents mirror the national trend of being the generation least likely to practice Christianity. Like the broader Church in the U.S., churches in metro areas and urban neighborhoods may face challenges in gaining or retaining the participation of young adults—but those that do may welcome churchgoers who are rooted in and passionate about their city.” (Inside, page 76). The Gen Z churchgoers in urban communities feel more rooted in their sense of pride in their city. They are also deemed more active members of their communities.
How Does This Connect to ProGrace?
We know that issues surrounding abortions affect people from all walks of life. Christians are not excluded from these numbers. The Barna and World Impact research did not address the topic of abortion. But, it did show urban churches serving the role Jesus intended in their communities. Because of this, they are ready for people to approach when they feel scared, uncertain, and hurt. These are feelings experienced by many in unintended pregnancy or abortion situations. We encourage Christians to focus on the truth of God’s grace. The Church could become safe and supportive for those with an unintended pregnancy. Churches can meet many needs for people dealing with an unintended pregnancy. When people turn to God, He can create pathways of hope.
We want all churches to be open and welcoming places for people to turn to for support. We need all congregations to serve as vital members of thriving communities. Urban churches already serve these roles within their communities. We envision grace-filled communities where all people find the support and love they need. We want communities to meet their needs with enthusiasm and understanding, without judgment. We can eradicate loneliness and bring people closer to the family God intended us to be. Churches were perfectly designed to meet many human needs, but we must first change ourselves. We need to look at all people like Jesus did: with grace, acceptance, and love.
What Can You Do Next?
Urban churches are succeeding in meeting the needs of their communities. They're safe places to struggle with moral dilemmas and find truth and acceptance. We strive to believe in the power and potential of the Church, and we know you do, too. Partner with us to spread the message of grace to your circle of influence. Sometimes, change starts small. Join us as we exhibit grace to the unchurched so they can see Christians and Christian institutions as safe, positive places to turn to. As representatives of Christ, ensure we are equipped to do it well and follow Jesus’ example.
You have the power to change some negative stereotypes around Christians and churches. Show the world the true love of Christ, and let His love draw people near. Only when people approach the Church for help can we give that help. Change starts with you and me, and it starts now.
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