The idea that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America is beginning to change.
Protestant churches in the U.S. have become three times more likely to be racially diverse than they were 20 years ago according to new research from Baylor University.
The percentage of Protestant churches where no one racial group makes up more than 80 percent of the congregation tripled from 4 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2012. Evangelicals and Pentecostals show even higher levels of diverse churches, up to 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
Overall, nearly 1 in 5 of all American worshipers belong to a multi-ethnic congregation.
The findings are based on data from the most recent National Congregations Study and are good news to evangelicals who have been working to integrate worship services.
Sam Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, saw the trend earlier this year when he told Jason Daye, host of the ChurchLeaders podcast, “I’m seeing the emergence of multi-ethnic, Christ-centered Bible-based churches. To me that is the hope of a nation.”
He called it the “number one trend” in evangelical churches today, adding, “That puts a smile on my face because it’s the answer to the racial angst in the nation. A divided church will never heal a broken nation.”
If healing comes from congregations resembling the communities they’re in, the study finds churches are moving in the right direction. “The average congregation was eight times less diverse racially than its neighborhood in 1998 and four times less diverse in 2012,” Kevin D. Dougherty, Baylor sociologist and the lead author of the study, pointed out. But the research also indicates there is more work to be done. “Congregations are looking more like their neighborhoods racially and ethnically, but they still lag behind,” Dougherty said.
Multiracial Congregations Don’t Grow on Their Own
“The church wants diversity but we aren’t doing enough to achieve it,” Pastor Choco De Jesus, Senior Pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago, told ChurchLeaders. “You need to be intentional.”
Much of the multi-ethnic church growth has come from church planting. But De Jesus says it has to be done thoughtfully and prayerfully.
“When we go into a community (to plant a church) we need to respect the churches that are already there. I think it’s pretty arrogant of a pastor who doesn’t connect with anybody in the community to say I’m going to change this community.”
“When I first went down the trail of Christ-exalting diversity, and planted a multi-ethnic church in 2003, there were sparse examples I could look to pattern our ministry after,” Bryan Loritts, founder of The Kainos Movement, told Christianity Today.
“But now the volume has been turned way up on wanting to see multiethnic churches launched, and it’s even become the new normal,” he said. “When I talk to young church planters who are eager to get started, it’s a little overwhelming to hear them say they want to be a multi-ethnic church. This is a relatively new and growing development—one I’m overjoyed with.”
It’s also good news to Rodriguez, who said, “When all the colors come together, it reflects the brightest light.”