Talk of Houston likely brings images of barbecue, cowboys, and JJ Watt. It may also be mentioned that three of the top 15 largest churches are in Houston. Houston is home to many large and growing congregations. Yet, despite the number and size of these churches Houston’s growth outpaces even the fastest growing church. According to an article on Forbes.com, Houston recovered from the recession of 2008 in only twenty-two months! That economic strength is due to the increasing diversity of the city’s economy. In a city historically known for oil, they are beginning to lead the charge in a number of fields including biotechnology, air and space craft manufacturing and research. Forbes went on to say, “Since December 2008, Houston has added 9.8 percent to its job base, the highest percentage of any of the top 25 metros in the country”. Recently, the Houston Business Journal put out a piece stating that Houston is among the top cities for growth and income.
Earlier this year Forbes reported that Houston is the fastest growing city in the country. In the past four years the region has grown by 500,000 people.
This unrivaled economic growth has lead to Houston replacing New York City as the country’s most diverse city. A fact observed by the city’s own Chronicle and Kinder Institute at Rice University, but also NPR and the Smithsonian Magazine. The Cooper Center at the University of Virginia created a racial dot map of the United States. Houston is a bright spot (literally) of concentrated racial diversity.
Despite Houston’s reputation as a “bible belt” city, Pew Research reports that 43% of Houston is now either Atheist, Agnostic, None, or part of another religion other than Christianity. In a metropolitan area that is home to approximately 6.6 million people. That percentage represents a tremendous amount of spiritually lost men, women, and children.
For the last few years many have begun to state that Houston is America’s next global city. For those of us who have lived here for even a few years can attest to that.
Issues of Justice
Despite the racial and religious diversity in our city it remains one of the most segregated. Houston’s Third Ward is one of the most violent neighborhoods in the nation. Yet, it is only a few miles from River Oaks, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the nation. The Third Ward is 93% African American with a median income of $33,000. River Oaks, however, is 86% White with a median income of $157,542. What a difference a few miles makes.
In addition to the segregation and poverty, the nation’s largest Planned Parenthood is located at the intersection of some of Houston’s poorest neighborhoods, included the Third Ward. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that African American women are five times as likely to have an abortion than a white woman. Hispanic women are twice as likely. And Planned Parenthood strategically located its largest building on the borders of Houston’s largest African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods.
Houston is also a major hub for human trafficking. The local ABC affiliate reported in March 2014 that the Federal government considers I-10 the number one trafficking route in the country. The Houston Chronicle reported the same in January 2015.
Houston takes us to the World
It is easy (and understandable) to hear all these statistics and be discouraged. All the challenges that Houston faces are also tremendous opportunities. The poverty and human trafficking are real opportunities for the church to be leading the way in mercy and justice. The growing racial diversity provides opportunities for Houston churches to model the unity that the gospel creates. The spiritual diversity is just further motivation for the planting of new churches. And the strength of our economy means that the financial resources for a church planting movement are located within our very own city!
Here is the heart of the answer: Houston takes us to the world. Each demographic presents the opportunity to reach, raise up, and send out nationals. We can reach, train, resource, and send church planters to every major continent and country in the world - all without leaving Harris county!
The convergence of people and resources could be the beginning of a church planting movement that spreads across the world. So, when people ask, “why Houston?” You can tell them, “When we reach Houston, we reach the world!"