The city is making a comeback. After a long period of decentralization that began in the 1920s with the birth of the automobile and the development of mass-produced housing, cities began to grow again in the United States. This presents churches in North America with a rare opportunity to engage in cross-cultural missions to the diaspora like never before. For churches to see the full potential of this missionary occassion, they must first understand these tectonic shifts in the U.S. population that are leading a very different mission field outside their own front door.
The New Wave of Immigration
In addition to the fact that Generational Shifts Lead to an Urban Boom, urban centers and their surrounding suburbs are the target destination for one of the largest immigration movements in world history. Today, immigration is poised to break a century-old record in the United States. With over 45 million foreign born residents, the United States is the biggest recipient of global migration by a wide margin. America has long been a receiver of immigrants; however, recent numbers may potentially pass those of America's largest immigration waves of the past. In 1890, the immigrant share of the U.S. population stood at 14.8 percent.Immigrant share is the percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born. After 1920, this number dropped significantly. It reached an all-time low in 1970 at 4.7 percent. Today, recent immigrant share stands at 13.4 percent.Gustavo López, Kristen Bialik, and Posts, “Key Findings about U.S. Immigrants,” Pew Research Center, (May 3, 2017). The immigrant share is its highest in a century, and this number represents unprecedented diversity. Unlike the first great wave of immigration, which brought primarily European immigrants from near-culture groups, the second wave of immigration is bringing people from everywhere except Europe.
The Hart-Celler Act of 1965
This remarkable shift in immigrant share can be attributed to a key piece of legislature adopted in 1965. President Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, known as the Hart-Celler Act, into law, making significant changes to the manner in which the United States received immigrants.Government Publishing Office, “The Immigration and Nationality Act,” Catalog of U.S. Government Publications. The act removed previous legislation that restricted immigration by nationality. Before this, most immigration was limited to European countries. This change radically shifted the flow of immigration to the United States, opening up the doors to a truly global immigrant wave. Since this time, the immigrant share has continued to rise, and the nations populations diversify. In 2017, the Trump administration began to significantly restrict immigrationonce again; however, the new administration vows to reverse this trend and reopen the doors for immigration to the United States. If this holds true, the United States will most likely continue to see a rise in immigrant share and the American people will continue to diverisfy to new levels.
Not Just for the Big Cities
Contrary to the assumption that diversity and immigrant populations are a "big city" phenomenon, the current wave of immigration is so pronounced it also affects small and mid-size urban centers as well. Towns like Dearborn, Michigan and Calrkston, Georgia are becoming bustling hubs for immigrant communities. In many smaller urban centers, ethnic enclaves are developing that serve as the largest collection of their respective people group in the world outside of their home country. Nashville, for instance, has the largest Kurdish population in the world outside of the Middle East.Monica Campbell, “Visiting a Kurdish Capital in the US,” BBC News (August 29, 2014). A 2015 Charlotte Observer article notes,
In just 20 years, from 1990 to 2010, the percentage of Charlotte’s population that is foreign-born quintupled from about 3 percent to about 15 percent. Close to 114,000 immigrants, legal and not, call the city home. That’s about one in seven residents, a higher proportion than in Philadelphia, Milwaukee or Detroit.Robert Lahser, “A New Era Needs a New Approach,” Charlotte Observer (March 23, 2015).
This phenomenon can be witnessed across the country, from Columbus, Ohio to Houston and everywhere in between.