Around 1880, the Seventh-day Adventist Church established a strong emphasis in cities. At that time, we were few in number; only one Seventh-day Adventist church member for every 89,768 inhabitants of the world, however we faced a great challenge to fulfill the mission that God had placed in our hands. To facilitate the understanding of our task, the General Conference began to publish an annual report regarding the mission in the cities that lasted from 1885 to 1899. In 1886, the report indicated 36 missionary projects already in progress, involving 102 denominational employees and 224 volunteers.
Several years later, between 1908 and 1910, Ellen White renewed the emphasis on the work in the cities and insisted, in a clear manner, that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was neglecting this mission. More than 100 years have already gone by since she wrote these strong convocations, appeals, counsel and warnings about this subject. Since then many things have changed. Around the year 1900, the world had only 12 cities with a population of more than 1 million. Currently, there are more than 400 cities with this population, with 20 of these cities having a population greater than 10 million. Daily approximately 200,000 people leave the rural area migrating to the cities; therefore since 2008 more than half of the world’s population is concentrated in urban regions. By 2030, this concentration should reach 60% of the worldwide population.
In addition to all the inspired counsel and appeals that challenge us to look with attention toward the urban concentrations, Gary Krause, director of the area of Global Mission for the General Conference, presents at least three basic reasons to face this reality.
1. Sheer numbers. For example, in Stockholm, Sweden, there are 410 Adventists living among a population of 1.25 million. In other words, there are more than 3,000 people for every Seventh-day Adventist. In Kolkata, India, there are 558 church members among a population of 15 million.
This means one Adventist for more than 26,000 people. In the United States 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas, but only one in three Adventist churches is located in these urban areas. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a metropolitan region with 2.4 million, there are fewer Adventist today than there were in 1948. If we consider the ratio of Adventists per person throughout the world, the data from 2010 indicates that there is 1 Adventist for every 405 people. If we evaluate this same situation, however removing the urban centers, the ratio will be 423 people to every Adventist. If we count only the large cities, the ratio becomes 953 people for every Adventist.
2. Unique urban issues. In many parts of the world, a Global Mission pioneer running an outreach effort in a small community brings out almost the entire population. Trying the same thing in a large city, and you are competing with theaters, cinemas, restaurants, malls, concert halls, clubs and numerous other places of entertainment. For many who live in these regions, church is something uncommon, a relic of another era. For this reason, “In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God’s appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes” (Manuscript 45, 1910).
3. Adventist dislocation from cities. While most people live in urban areas, most Seventh-day Adventist churches, and institutions are located away from this mission field. In many cases, urban churches, downtown churches, or those in more centrally located regions has an attendance originating from people who do not live in the same region where the churches are located. Many of their members commute from the suburbs to attend these churches. Without proximity to the mission field, the church becomes distant from the reality that we need to reach. But the call is clear, “My duty is to say that God is earnestly calling for a great work to be done in the cities” (Letter 150, 1909).