Youth, the City, Rapid Urbanization, and the Church

People are moving to the cities. It’s not just to the big cities, but also to the small cities in every province or region. Most of the time, it’s the young people–students, professionals, and workers–who are greatly affected by rapid urbanization.

This process of urbanization provides an opportunity for the church to reach out to more people who are moving to the cities. As such, the Church, particularly the United Methodist Church in the Philippines, needs to review its ministries to address the rising number of people in the cities and help young people find their place in the city.

Here are some thoughts on youth, urbanization, and church ministry. Since, I’m a United Methodist, that identity shapes the following insights.

Urbanization is increasingly becoming the way that we, humans, organize and live our lives. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) “54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050.” The percentage of urban population in 1960 was only 34%!


Based on a report from UN DESA, here are several trends to expect in the next decades with some local developments and observations that I have added:

1. Mega-cities with more than 10 million people are increasing in number.

“in 1990, there were ten “mega-cities” with 10 million inhabitants or more, which were home to 153 million people or slightly less than seven per cent of the global urban population at that time. In 2014, there are 28 mega-cities worldwide, home to 453 million people or about 12 percent of the world’s urban dwellers. Of today’s 28 mega-cities, sixteen are located in Asia, four in Latin America, three each in Africa and Europe, and two in Northern America. By 2030, the world is projected to have 41 mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more.”

Metro Manila is one of the world’s top 20 megacities with 24.1 Million residents. The huge population of Metro Manila is creating big problems in transportation and delivery of services. Roads are becoming more congested and the mobility of the population is becoming severely limited.

2. Small cities are numerous and many are growing rapidly.

This is also true in the Philippines. In every province and region of the country, there is a small, but rapidly growing city. Just in Northern Luzon, the following cities are exploding, in terms of infrastructure, economy, and the population:

  • Tuguegarao (Cagayan)
  • Cauayan, Ilagan, & Santiago (Isabela)
  • Solano, Bayombong (Nueva Vizcaya)
  • Tarlac (Tarlac)
  • Baguio City (Benguet)
  • San Jose, Cabanatuan, Gapan (Nueva Ecija)
  • San Fernando (La Union)
  • Vigan, Candon  (Ilocos Sur)
  • Laoag (Ilocos Norte)

When you go South of Manila and even the cities in Visayas and Mindanao, you’d see lots of development there. People are moving to the cities. As result, rural populations tend to decline.

3. Rural populations expected to decrease as urban populations continue to grow.

The majority of Protestant churches are in rural areas. It’s safe to say that most ministry models of Protestant churches developed in a rural context. With urbanization knocking these ministry models left and right, I couldn’t see a lot of new ministry models being developed.

Urbanization brings with it important economic, social, and cultural changes. Among these changes is the coming of big, bad, shopping malls to the countryside. People now have access to movies, more places to shop, more restaurants to eat at, and more leisure activities to do, urbanization also brings with it the dangers of consumerism.

It’s interesting to see the juxtaposition of poverty in the countryside and the seeming opulence and the dizzying array of products meant for middle class and wealthy consumers in these small cities.

4. Sustainable urbanization is key to successful development.

There’s no escaping urbanization. It is coming and is an irreversible feature of our 21st century world. If we look at Metro Manila, it seriously lacks urban planning. Even Baguio is now hot and crowded. For people in small cities to thrive, sustainable development should be the priority agenda of policy-makers and political leaders.

Youth and Urbanization

Young people are at the forefront of developments in urbanization. They are the students, and the professionals and workers who populate the cities.

Cities are the gateways to the world.

Sociologist Karen Tranberg Hansen, in Youth and the City in the Global South, observes that “cities are the gateways to the global world…” and that in developing countries, the youth make up the majority of the populations in these cities.

In the Philippines, a lot of multinational companies, particularly the Business Process Outsourcing industry, have set up shop in emerging cities because of abundant and relatively cheaper human resources.

This is a welcome development for a lot of young professionals, because they don’t need to go to Metro Manila to seek better employment.

Where’s the Church in All These?

If you visit a lot of these emerging churches in the Philippines, several enterprising, and new church movements (Victory Christian Fellowship and Christ Commission Fellowship among others) have set up shop. They usually rent a movie theater inside a mall, or a place with frequent foot traffic for their worship services.

This one thing is for sure: Protestant churches are losing thousands of young people to these CF’s as they’ve set up shop in these emerging cities.

I don’t know their philosophy and strategy in planting churches, but these CF’s (as Protestant friends often refer to them) are very, very good in using technology, relationships, and relentless follow-up to encourage new recruits to attend their Bible Studies and their worship services.

I know that it’s not about competition, but we cannot deny that these CFs are getting members from Protestant churches because of many different reasons. If you want to explore this matter further, I’ve written several blog posts at why young people leave traditional, mainstream denominations:

New Ways of Doing Ministry

It’s not all Doom and Gloom.

There are several United Methodist Churches in Metro Manila and in some cities in the provinces that have discovered new ways of doing ministry with young people. But there’s only a handful of them. We need more.

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