First Advisor

Lisa K. Bates

Term of Graduation

Spring 2019

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Church buildings, Neighborhoods -- Economic aspects, Neighborhoods -- Social aspects, Gentrification, Segregation



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 219 pages)


This study examines the role of local churches in neighborhood change, analyzing the relationship between Christian churches and changes in household median incomes from 1990 to 2010 in the census tract in which each church is located. Based on a nationally representative sample of churches from 2006 and 2012, the study uses hierarchical linear modeling and statistical matching techniques to analyze how key church characteristics such as social service involvement, social capital generation, residential patterns of attendees, and demographic composition are related to changes in neighborhoods. Two primary research questions were addressed: 1) How have patterns of church location changed with respect to neighborhood types, and 2) How do churches impact neighborhood change?

Findings indicate an overrepresentation of churches in gentrifying neighborhoods. A "back to the city" movement is occurring as church locational preferences have shifted from up-and-coming higher income neighborhoods in the 1980s to lower-income neighborhoods in the 2000s, reinforcing the overrepresentation in gentrifying neighborhoods. Churches on average are 1.6 times more segregated than our neighborhoods, with 87% of churches being less diverse than the neighborhood in which they are located, a figure that has not changed substantially from 1998 to 2012.

This study finds that churches impact their neighborhoods' socioeconomic trajectory, sometimes positively, other times negatively. Highlights include: 1) a higher percentage of whites in churches in non-white neighborhoods is associated with more neighborhood gentrification, 2) on average white churches in low-income neighborhoods are responsible for about 10% of the relative income growth required for gentrification, 3) church social services do not reverse neighborhood decline but instead slow down the effects of gentrification by helping low-income residents stay in place, and 4) more geographically dispersed white congregations are associated with less white influx into neighborhoods. While commuter-style churches may not be contributing to gentrification, neither are they helping declining neighborhoods to become healthy.


© 2019 David E. Kresta

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