By Lisa Cannon Green
Soaring cranes and sky-high rents seem to tell the story—Americans are moving to an urban lifestyle.
But even more people are opting for the outlying suburbs, new Census numbers indicate, in a trend that’s less flashy but more sustained.
Big cities are still gaining population, but not as quickly as they have in previous years, economist Jed Kolko concluded after analyzing the Census Bureau’ 2016 county-by-county population estimates.
Meanwhile, low-density suburbs—sometimes 30 to 50 miles from large cities—grew by 1.3 percent, the fastest rate since 2008.
“Those figures run counter to the ‘urban revival’ narrative that has been widely discussed in recent years,” Kolko wrote for FiveThirtyEight.
“That revival is real, but it has mostly been for rich, educated people in particular hyperurban neighborhoods rather than a broad-based return to city living.”
Takeaways for the church
For churches, the expanding population means more people to be reached—in suburbs as well as cities.
Many churchgoers like to attend a congregation close to home. Sixty-eight percent say it takes 15 minutes or less to get from their home to their place of worship, according to the Baylor Religion Survey.
So churches in the suburbs may find growing interest from a swelling population.
And most churches in new suburbs (59 percent) grew at least 2 percent in the past five years, analysis of the American Congregations 2015 study shows. By comparison, only 44 percent of those in other areas grew at that rate.
Yet the population also continues to expand in big cities, particularly in the South and West.
In fast-growing urban areas, reaching out with the gospel is essential, says Dustin Walker, pastor of families and community at City Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee— ranked by the Census Bureau as the 10th-fastest-growing city of 50,000 or more in America.
“As more people move into our cities, we need to be more intentional about inviting them to our churches—and into our lives,” Walker says.
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LISA CANNON GREEN (@lisaccgreen) is senior editor of Facts & Trends.