The Right Path
A 100-year-old church building becomes an Urban Outfitters store. A block of abandoned storefronts becomes a hot new restaurant strip. An old factory morphs into apartment lofts. This is the most common scene in urban America today, which is called gentrification. This is a sociological term that describes property redevelopment within an urban core.
To simplify this, I jokingly say that you know a neighborhood gentrifies when it goes from baggy jeans to skinny jeans as a fashion statement. These neighborhoods become home to new residents who want shorter commutes and the vibrancy of an urban area. The attitudes, beliefs and values of residents change dramatically as the median income moves up.
Gentrification tends to send churches down one of four paths. The church relocates, following the neighborhood’s displaced residents. Or a church stays but tries to change the makeup of its congregation by reaching a multi-ethnic group across social classes. Another response is for a new congregation to start. Suburban churches open a campus or plant a church in the urban core to reach the new residents. Finally, a church can die. What’s the right path?
I’m not sure. If a church feels a call to the poor and the poor move, it’s not wrong to follow the mission field. If it stays and tries to re-invent itself, good for them. Skinny jean people need churches too, so a new church is not automatically bad. Even death might be appropriate. In my experience, gentrification isn’t typically the direct cause of a church’s demise. But the deep pockets of developers can tip a congregation toward closure. Gentrification sort of hastens the whole process.
One thing I do know. When we confess Jesus Christ, we are confessing the world-changing idea that Christ came to die for sins, defeat Satan and destroy the devil’s works, and to reestablish the reign of God in the earth. That’s the work that Jesus did with his life, death, burial, and resurrection. And the local church is the vehicle for this magnificent truth to play out, with or without gentrification. World Impact will continue to partner with urban local churches through every situation.
June 11, 2019 | Butch Ernette
Great article Alvin. Be aware of change and adjust. Thanks for working to keep Urban Churches vibrant.