What does urban mission and ministry actually mean?

What do we mean when we talk about urban ministry?  When we talk about an “Urban area” at its simplest, we are distinguishing between urban and rural -between built up, heavily populated areas, towns, cities, conurbations and less densely populated areas, villages, hamlets etc. There is of course the “suburban” category used to identify outlying, reasonably prosperous suburbs of towns and cities.

So within “Urban” Ministry it is worth noting that we can identify a number of categories. These will include:

University areas and student ministry. This may include a signicant number of international students creating a multi-ethnic feel to community and church life.

Prosperous and gentrified parts of cities, home to graduates and young professionals. This may include ministries aimed at reaching business-people and office workers.

However, quite often those who talk about doing urban ministry are focusing on reaching inner city and council estate areas with a focus on the urban poor, the working class etc. Even within this, there’s a number of sub-categories.  These might include

Areas where the pre-dominant population is white working class.  This will particularly include council estates built in the middle of the last century to provide social housing. Estates can range in size, some have particularly bad reputations for social deprivation and crime but this is not always the case. Since the 1980s many estates include a significant percentage of owner-occupied houses.

Multi-cultural communities where there’s a significant mix of ethnic groups as well as a variegated religious make up.

Mono-cultural communities where there is a significant immigrant community. The area may also have a dominant or even exclusive religious make up.

It is worth recognising three things

  1. That even within the broad categories I have mentioned there is still potential for a wide variety of experiences.
  2. That simply to talk in terms of “urban mission” can mask the differences of needs and experiences between types of urban.  So, when we identify someone as working in an urban context, it is helpful to ask “What type of urban?”
  3. That whilst there are distinctions, there is also a level of interconnectedness between urban contexts. For example, young people may move away from a council estate or inner city area to University to study.  An area that was once seen as socially deprived can be prioritised for investment and gentrification. As people migrate either naturally or by being placed into communities the ethnic mix may change.