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Suburban Nation
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Photo: Jerald Bernard
The urban landscapes of the US are vast and often intimidating. Most Christians in America have grown up in a time that glorified rural life and denigrated city life. But this is not the whole story. Many factors converged in the last half of the 20th century to make moving out of the city the most attractive option for most people. As people moved out of the cities two things happened. First, because those who left the city were the ones who could afford to do so, a social and economic vacuum was created in the city. The second, but perhaps more important phenomenon was that those who moved out of the city by and large did not move to rural areas. Instead they moved to a new place known as suburbs.

So, for all the idealization of rural life, very few people have opted for it. Instead, suburban life has become the dominant reality for most Americans today. I was talking with a pastor recently who serves a congregation in a rural town in Vermont. As he described the quality of community life in his town, it touched a chord in me. “That’s how I feel about my life in the city,” I thought. The more we talked the more I realized that the loss in American social life is not about urban vs. rural. Instead it is a suburban phenomenon.

The Loss of Community

The point is not that urban and rural places are good and the suburbs are bad. This would be a drastic oversimplification and misses the point entirely. The fragmentation we are experiencing in the West is not confined to the suburbs. The point is to recognize ways in which we have lost a sense of community in the suburban landscape.

The challenge for all churches, whether urban, suburban or rural, is to imagine ways in which the church can foster a sense of genuine community, not just for its members for the wider society in which the church is located. Can we envision the church as a public space, which brings the community together for the common good?

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By Ryan Bell. Center for Metropolitan Ministries. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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