Missiology: Urban Mission Part 4

Over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I will start by taking a look at some of the issues brought up by the urban explosion, and I will conclude by reflecting upon how the Gospel addresses these issues.

Today we will look at the second issue brought about by the urban explosion: cultural heterogeneity.


II-The Context: The City

            C. Cultural Heterogeneity

            “Compared to almost any small town, the city appears to be a Noah’s Ark of colors, languages, physiognomies, costumes, styles, and activities.”[1] In cities we find people of all ages religions, socio-economic positions, and cultures. Conn argues that “the nations come to the cities,”[2] it is in the city that we find the highest concentrations of minority groups.[3] However this diversity is not always due to the presence of international residents, different people groups from within a country are often found in the city.

It is often the case that the pluralistic tendencies of cities are a complicated matter. For instance in Accra, Ghana’s capital and largest city, there are many different tribes present. The Zambras and the Gaos dislike the Hausas, the Moshies and the Zabrmas are friends, and the Fulani are despised by all these other groups.[4] To complicate the matters even more, these groups often contain Christians and Muslims, this adds another layer of complexity to the pluralism of Accra. Accra however is not unique; all major urban centers throughout the world must deal with the consequences of heterogeneity. Although cultural heterogeneity can often have positive results, it is often the case that cultural heterogeneity results in competition and conflict based on disparate values and interests between groups.[5] This conflict can result in acts of violence based upon prejudice, mistrust, and hate felt towards groups that are different from one’s own ingroup. The other result of cultural heterogeneity is “super-tribalization.”[6] This occurs when social ties with people of the same cultural group become so separate from other groups that they drastically decrease any and all interaction with groups different from themselves. The presence of ethnic churches, newspapers, stores, schools and neighborhoods reinforce this separation.

[1] Claude S. Fischer, The Urban Experience, (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1984), 75.

[2] Conn and Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, 318.

[3] Fischer, The Urban Experience, 80-1.

[4] Little, Urbanization as a Social Process, 55.

[5] Fischer, The Urban Experience, 82.

[6] Fischer, The Urban Experience, 148.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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