3 minute read

Today, I want to draw your attention to another research article from the Brookings institute concerning migration in the United States. Notice I said migration, not immigration. Of course, this article deals with the latter, but there is more going on that foreign-born people moving into the US. Instead, this article compares two very important trends for urban missions: international immigration and domestic migration.

We are all familiar with the idea of international immigration. It is all over the news right now. Many of us, though, are less familiar with the idea of domestic migration, or people moving from one part of the country to another. I have mentioned these twin migration forces in earlier articles. In fact, they deeply impact the way our cities look and feel. And according to William Frey in this Brookings article, “This analysis of recently released census estimates shows that there is a clear distinction between domestic migration and international migration patterns across America.”

Magnet Areas:

The Brookings article uses the term “magnet areas” to explain the different urban centers that receive in migration. So, certain cities in the US act like magnets for people, pulling them into their gravity. The important thing to note here, however, is that the magnets cities for international migration and domestic migration are different. In other words, some cities are growing because they are magnets for domestic migration, or US citizens moving from one part of the country to another. Other cities are growing exclusively because of international immigration.  The Brookings article provides a table that shows the different kinds of magnet cities.

Most Major US cities are losing domestic residents

Here is the surprising piece of this research: most big cities in the US are actually losing domestic residents. That is a very big deal for missions and ministry. In other words, cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago will all have less native-born residents next year than they do this year. The population of traditional Western, American culture folk is shrinking in all of these cities. To use the magnet metaphor, they are repelling domestic migrants.

The only exceptions to this trend are the Sunbelt cities: Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, etc. These cities are your domestic magnets. They are growing primarily because of people moving across the country to live there.

Immigration exceeds domestic migration gains in 59 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas

Wrap your mind around this one. America is certainly getting more urban, but it is doing so largely because of international migration. In fact, some of these major cities that are losing domestic migrants are still growing because so many international immigrants are moving there. This makes a tremendous impact on the kind of ministry that is possible in these cities. Simply assuming we will reach America’s biggest cities through traditional North American church planting models overlooks the fact that the traditional North American population in these cities is shrinking. New populations mean new methods.

Houston is the rare city that is growing by both

Brookings points out that very little overlap exists between the magnet cities. If you are a magnet city for international immigration, then you are most likely not a magnet city for domestics. There are only a couple of exceptions to this, and it just so happens that Houston is one of those. For me friends in ministry here in Houston, the paradigm is unique. We have migrations gains from both domestic sources and international sources. Houston is a magnet city for both streams currently, and that is creating a different setting for church planting and missions. Missions strategies for Houston will need to span the spectrum, as large numbers of foreign-born people with no Western background (or language) move in alongside that new batch of young American millennials looking for their first big career.

Check out the full article here: Where immigrant growth matters most. It has some very important insights.