Mining Grace

…the more happiness you have, the more I shall count myself glorified

Taking the Gospel to Exurbia

Part of church planting is studying the community to which you are going. As I’ve gotten to know Culpeper by talking to it’s people, strolling it’s sidewalks, and pouring over its demographics one word keeps coming up: exurban. What is exurban?  Wikipedia has it’s own decent definition (half way down the article).  My working definition is that an exurb is an embryonic suburb.  Suburbs have an uncanny way of metastasizing all over the American landscape. They simply sprawl.  Exurban is a town that is caught between rural-quaint and suburban-sprawled.

A good friend recommended a book to help me understand the Exurb better.  It is On Paradise Drive, by David Brooks.  I’m just getting into it on my Kindle (and wishing I owned a Kindle 2).  Here are some early quotes from Brooks.

We are living in the age of the great dispersal. As Witold Rybczynski has observed, the American population continues to decentralize faster than any other society in history.  In 1950 only 23 percent of Americans lived in suburbia, but now most do, and today’s suburbs are sprawling out faster and faster and farther and farther, so in the past few years, many exurban places have broken free from the gravitational pull of the cities and now float in a new space far beyond them.

For an example of this, just think of the suburbs around Atlanta that have now grown to have identities all their own quite separate from urban Atlanta.

Brooks goes on to explain the unique lack of a societal center as compared to every other community in America.

This suburban supernova subtly affects every place in America.  The cities and inner-ring suburbs are affected because only certain kinds of people get left behind.  Quiete often the people who stay are either the very poor, because they can’t afford to move ; or the very rich, because they can afford to stay and live well in upscale enclaves.  In the exploding exurbs, there are no centers, no recognizable borders and boundaries, and few of the conventional geographic forms — such as towns, villages, and squares — that people in older places take for granted.  Up till now in human history, people have lived around some definable place — a tribal ring, an oasis, a river junction, a port, a town square.  You could identify a certain personality type with a certain place.  There was a New York personality, an L.A. personality.  But in exurbia, each individual has his or her own polycentric nodes — the school, the church, the subdevelopments, the office park — and the relationship between those institutions is altered.

Not only is suburbia become the location of decentralized America it is also where office parks are housing the businesses that are making the advancements which are changing the face of our society.  This produces tremendous power housed in seemingly disconnected societies.  Brooks asks,

How do these bland-seeming places produce so much change, and how will they manage it?  What happens when people acculturated in these sprawling suburban zones are given the power — through the biotech firms they are now starting amid the Fuddruckers — to remake human nature?   What values will guide them?

Even from these few quotes you start to see the absolute necessity for church planting in suburban and especially exurban areas.  People are moving to the exurbs.  Businesses are moving to the exurbs.  The pieces of our decentralizing societal core are moving to the exurbs.  And so it is the privilege of the church to take the gospel to the exurbs.

This is one of the many reasons that I’m excited about the new work I’m a part of in Culpeper, VA.  I get to be a missionary to this new America.  I want to see Jesus glorified in the Exurbs.  What a privilege.


Written by Joe Holland

February 12, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Posted in haste

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2 Responses

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  1. Perhaps we should rename our paper the Culpeper Star-Exurbiaponent.


    February 12, 2009 at 5:23 pm

  2. I thought that was what the “Ex” in Exponent stood for!

    Joe Holland

    February 13, 2009 at 9:36 am

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