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The Un-Secular City

by Philip Jenkins

None of the reasons why churches have been growing so astonishingly in the global South (ie. South Korean or Africa) is likely to change in the near future. These emerging churches work so well because they appeal to the very different demographics of their communities, and do best among young and displaced migrants in mushrooming cities. The most successful new denominations target their message very directly at the have-nots, or rather, the h nothings. Again, demographic projections suggest that the environment which they have flourished will continue to exist well into mid-century. By 2050, there will be an ever-growing contrast between the age profiles of the global South and North, between one world of the young and very mobile and another of the old and static.

Most of the global population growth in the coming decades will be urban. Today, around 45 percent of the world's people live in urban areas but that proportion should rise to 60 percent by 2025, to 66 percent by 2050. In another epochal change, these urban centers will be overwhelmingly Southern. In 1900 all the world's largest cities were located either in Europe or North America. Today, only three of the world's ten largest urban areas can be found in traditionally advanced countries, name Tokyo, New York City, and Los Angeles (see table below). Currently, 80 percent of the world's largest urban conglomerations are located in either Asia or Latin America, and African cities will become much more prominent by midcentury. China in particular continues to urbanize. Already, China has 160 cities with populations over a million, and as early as 2015, over half of the nation's population will be urban. The metropolitan area of Chongqing alone, a name scarcely known to most Westerners, already has over 30 million people, more than the entire nations of Iraq or Peru.

Source: Wold Christian Database.

China is of course a highly organized state, but much of the urban growth will take place in much weaker social political environments, even of failed of failing states. The proportion of Africans living in urban s from around 40 percent today to almost 66 percent by 2050. Worldwide, the result will be a steadily growing number of huge metropolitan complexes that could by 2050 or so be counting their populations in tens millions. Megacities such as Cairo, Mumbai (Bombay) Dhaka, Karachi, Jakarta, Lagos, and Mexico City each have perhaps 30 or 40 million people, and next to nothing in terms of working government services. Tens of millions of new urban dwellers will in effect be living and working totally outside the legal economy or any effective relationship with officialdom. Still other colossi will arise in the future, giant cities with names hitherto unfamiliar to Westerners, centers such as Kampala, Kinshasa, Dar-es-Salaam, and Sana'a. By midcentury, still other African names will soon be joining the roster of megacities-Bamako, Lubumbashi, Niamey, and Maputo.1

Rich pickings await any religious groups who can meet the needs of these new urbanites, anyone who can at once feed the body and nourish the soul. Will the harvest fall to Christians or Muslims? And if to Christians, the winners be Catholics or Pentecostals?


1 David Satterhwaite, The transition to a Predominantly Urban World and Its Underpinnings (London: International Institute for Environment and Development, 2007); Hernando De Soto, The Mystery of Capital (New York: Basic Books, 2000).


Excerpted from Philip Jenkins' book, The Next Christendom: The coming of Global Christianity, 3rd ed, Oxford University Press, 2011

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