This highlights for me why Christians must take the suburbs seriously. Is it easier or harder to be a Christian in the suburbs? Yes. Here's a quote from Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution:
Sometimes people ask me if I am scared, living in the inner city. I usually reply, "I'm more scared of the suburbs." The Scriptures say that we should not fear those things that can destroy the body, but we are to fear that which can destroy the soul (Matt. 10:28). While the ghettos may have their share of violence and crime, the suburbs are the home of the more subtle demonic forces - numbness, complacency, comfort - and it is these that can eat away at our souls. (p. 227)
Amen and amen. Suburbia can be a challenging environment for Christian life and ministry precisely because people's spiritual needs are not always immediately apparent, and the forces at work are much more subtle, often invisible and attitudinal rather than structural. I remember back when I was a kid, during the Cold War '80s, people worried about Soviet communism threatening Christianity. And I thought, never mind communism - our Christianity is already being challenged by suburban secularism, deism, isolationism, materialism and consumerism. We just have a harder time noticing those things. Which means that suburbia needs savvy suburban Christians who will think missionally and herald the gospel and presence of the kingdom of God in ways that connect with suburban people.
And actually, we shouldn't be under any illusions about suburbia being "safe." A year ago someone broke into our suburban townhouse in the middle of the night and stole my wife's purse. He then stole a car from a house down the block (and was caught later that day). Shane tells a story in his book about a time in college that he was going into the city and was afraid of being robbed, so he left his credit card in his dorm room. The next day he realized that someone had stolen his card from his room and charged hundreds of bucks' worth of stuff on it. So nowhere is really "safe."
So anyway, as I mentioned during the radio interview, I am very encouraged to hear about pastors, church planters and lay Christians who are intentionally starting churches and ministering in suburban contexts, seeing suburbia as a strategic mission field. Even as I cheer on ministry efforts in urban centers and overseas, I'm encouraged that Christians are taking suburbia seriously and grappling with the subtle spiritual and cultural challenges here. All of us have callings to different locations, and every place needs faithful and contextual Christian witness. So, all you suburban pastors and church planters and intentional suburban Christians out there, kudos to all of you for all you do. May your tribe increase.