Al Hsu‘s book The Suburban Christian is an interesting and thought-provoking read. Written primarily for the American Christian market, he aims to make sense of the design, challenges and opportunities for mission that can be found in suburban America (and over 50% of American’s now live in the suburbs). Until this book, there had been plenty written about urban ministry, a far about about challenges for rural churches, but not much on the implications for Christian living in the rapidly expanding suburbs. Although all of Hsu’s research and examples are from the US, it still contains lots of useful stuff that can be applied to a UK setting too.
He begins with a couple of chapters about the development of the first suburbs in the 1950s. The original aim was to provide low cost quality single-family houses for those on lower to middle incomes. It allowed more control over life with modern conveniences and a chance to own your own home. It became the epitome of the American dream. As the suburbs spread, shops and businesses also opened up in new locations out of town. But the suburbs also marked the beginnings of commuter culture. People now rarely lived and worked in the same place (often their offices were in town or in another suburb). This eased some challenged that urban areas suffered from but created others, such as the dependence on the car, isolation and difficulty in creating community.
In the book, Al Hsu offers a thoughtful critique of suburban culture including things like consumerism, branding, identity and community, and cultural norms that Christians all to easily slip into. He offers some practical advice such as how a Christian is to interact with a materialist culture and encouragements to see God at work in the everyday things. He gives a challenge to individual Christians and to churches to interact more effectively with the culture.
Hsu doesn’t promote one model of church or a single way of living, but offers encouragement and the first tools to begin thinking missionally in the suburban culture that the reader finds themselves in.