The View at 15,000 Feet is not Enough: A Call for More and Better Urban Research-Part 3

In this third post of this series, I want to introduce you to the limitations of my urban research.  As I mentioned a few days ago, it is my hope that by sharing with you my limitations (and findings) a stronger case will be made for the need for more and better urban research to guide missionary strategy and methods.

In case you missed the previous posts, you may view them HERE and HERE.

Case Study #1: Evangelical Concentrations in the U. S. and Canadian Metropolitan Areas

If you have been following my blog over the past  year, you know that I have written often about my research on the concentrations of evangelicals in the United States and Canada.  If you are just now checking out Missiologically Thinking, then you will want to get the report of the study and the PowerPoint presentation.

Since many of you are familiar with what I did in this study, I will not repeat the details.  For those of you needing a quick review, you may begin HERE.

We must stop looking at North America from the 35,000 Feet Perspective

I frequently fly throughout the United States and Canada.  At 35,000 feet, it is impossible to discern ground-level details.  Of course, you can distinguish mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, and cities and towns.  But you cannot observe the details of any community.  You can only describe the big picture.

For many years, missiologists have described the United States and Canada from the 35,000 feet perspective.   An example of this, is found in the color-coded map below, with the areas shaded in green as being 10% or greater Evangelical—thus considered “reached”.


Now, before I am misunderstood, I must state that when it comes to developing a global picture of people groups realities, I am with my colleagues here.  The world is a big place, and clearly there is a much greater need for the gospel in other parts of the world beyond the United States and Canada.  Such maps are necessary and helpful when providing the big picture.

But, we must not be satisfied with the perspective from 35,000 feet.  For whenever we descend to a lower altitude, we get a much clearer picture, one which reveals a radically different perspective.

But the View at 15,000 Feet is not Enough

My research drops us to a lower altitude, but one which is still not low enough for the development of robust strategies for the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.  This is one reason why I am calling for more and better urban research, and a collaborative effort on behalf of Evangelical urban missiologists.

What We Know

At the 15,000 feet level, we can discern the Evangelical concentrations in our metropolitan areas.  The research and data are available (see links above) to inform us that cities such as Pittsburgh, Reno, Rochester, and Laredo are less than 5% Evangelical—a perspective that one misses at 35,000 Feet.  It is also at this level that metro areas such as Provo-Orem, Providence, and Hartford are less than 3% Evangelical.

If certain metropolitan areas were people groups, maps would display them in RED, noting that they are less than 2% Evangelical and considered “unreached”.

At the 15,000 feet level, we are also able to calculate the ratio of Evangelical churches to the overall populations.   From a strategic perspective, I recommend a ratio of 1 church for every 1000 people in the urban contexts (1 for every 500 in rural areas).  Space will not permit me to explain the rationale behind these target ratios.  However, I address this matter in my forthcoming book Strategy Matters (co-authored with John Mark Terry).  Hopefully, I can blog about these numbers in the future.

Burlington has a ratio of 1 church for every 6630 people.  Springfield, Massachusetts has a ratio of 1:9814.  Toronto’s ratio is 1:5229.  Winnipeg comes in at 1:3169.

Limitations Affecting Strategy

Since I address my concerns with the data that support my work on Evangelical concentrations in the United States in the report linked above, I will be brief here.  First, our best data for the United States is over ten years old; and the best data for Canada is five years old.  Second, the researchers who collected the data for the United States used a very broad definition of “Evangelical” in their study.  As a missiologist, believe their definition is too broad to provide an accurate understanding of the number of Evangelicals.

In the next post in this series, I will address Case Study #2-The Failure to Understand the Peoples Living Among Us.  Stay tuned.



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