While blacks have been following whites in fleeing cities for the suburbs for several decades, it is only recently that African-American churches been following their members in their exodus from urban areas, according to research by Michael Emerson of Rice University.
Christianity Today (January) cites Emerson’s research as showing that the change is most evident among second-generation blacks who, unlike their parents, don’t feel an attachment to cities and to the houses of worship there. This trend breaks with the tradition of urban black churches having a large share of commuter members. Suburban churches are also viewed as more attractive because of the contemporary services they hold and such ministries as after-school programs.
The dilemma is that urban black churches have also been important social service centers, and as they move with their members to the suburbs, there are few social resources left, aside from small, poor storefront churches and the occasional megachurch that attracts suburban commuters. The outward-moving trend is likely to continue, according to Emerson.
What may happen in some cities is that poorer residents will be pushed out of central urban areas by gentrification to the outskirts and “inner ring” suburbs, where they may move back into the sphere of churches again, Emerson says.