The Suburbs

I have taken the time to frame the specific location of each congregation because, the particularity of this team is important for the knowledge we constructed as a result of our shared research. Now, however, it may serve us well to take the specific locations of these three congregations and bring them into conversation with some meta-theory regarding the suburban ELCA context.

We must, at this point, restate an important reality regarding the suburban context. There is no such thing as The Suburbs. The brief description of these three suburbs should be ample evidence to note their unique qualities. However, there are some unifying factors that are characteristic of these three suburbs that resonate with the literature regarding suburban studies.

All three suburbs fall predominantly within the bedroom-developing (B/D) classification. The typical B/D suburbanite (again, if that is fair to say) is a member of a middle-class family where both parents (many of whom are divorced and now living in two-house, shared family scenarios) work and the children are involved in multiple school and civic activities. They strive to gain a sense of autonomy, self-sufficiency, and the bourgeois ideal.[1] They spend a great deal of time driving between work, school, and social activities.[2] They have access to cable television and streaming Internet. Most members of the household have a personal digital device of some sort and often resort to texting as the preferred mode of communication.[3]

The dominant vision of the B/D suburb is: ownership of a detached single-family house; automobile ownership; low-rise workplaces; small communities with strong local governments; environment free from signs of poverty.[4] The modern dogma of fact/value, public/private dichotomy is the dominant vision. The local church is, if thought of at all, one component of the fragmented private world. Living a good life and keeping the family safe is the highest priority. The sociological factors that drive the B/D vision are radical individualism, self-sufficiency, autonomy, personal liberty and freedom, consumerism, and the commodification of goods, services, and people.[5] The research will reveal how the research team members: (a) recognized these factors within themselves, and (b) allowed the social Trinity to invite them into a new imagination.


[1] Fishman argues that the country estate in near proximity to the city has been a symbol of status  that was once only available to the nobility. The rising bourgeois class aspired to acquire such garden spots just outside the city since the late middle ages. Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987).

[2] This is a significant result of the automobile and zoning issues. Families live so far away from school, places of worship, and entertainment, that it is unrealistic for children to walk to most places. This forces the children to either rely on an adult to drive them to every place they need to go, or sit at home and seek self-entertainment. The fact that children travel great distances from many directions to attend school and/or church diminishes the likelihood that school and/or church friends will live within walking distance. These physical limitations have fostered the radical individualism and isolation experienced by many suburban youth.

[3] The ubiquitous nature of digital technology will become a matter of discussion for the RT. One of the pertinent issues is whether digital technology helps to bridge the isolation gap or enhance the sense of disconnection among suburbanites.

[4] Allan D. Wallis, “Filling the Governance Gap,” National Civic Review 87, no. 1 (1998): 103.

[5] The suburban lifestyle is a picture of the buffered self that Taylor describes. The drive for radical individual freedom and space is what drives most suburban communities. Garreau discusses how these values have formed Edge Cities that have redefined the meaning of community based upon these individualistic and utilitarian values. Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1991).