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Study: Multiracial Methodist Churches Draw AND Keep More People Than Their White Counterparts

“We decided to be purposeful in growing a church that foreshadows Revelation 7:9,” said Davis referring to a biblical passage describing heaven as a “great multitude” with people “from every nation, tribe, people and language.”

“If that’s what’s going on in heaven we ought to make every Sunday a dress rehearsal,” Davis said.

Davis hired several Black and Latino associate pastors as well as racially diverse worship and music leaders. One of its services is entirely in Spanish.

Davis thinks the church has a long way to go to continue to diversify. But he is amazed at changes that have taken place so far.

“The Holy Spirit creates unity,” he said.

study last year found that the number of multiracial congregations across the U.S. grew to 16% in 2019, up from 6% in 1998. The current study did not calculate the number of multiracial United Methodist congregations.

The longitudinal analysis found only an association between congregational diversity and congregational attendance; it did not suggest a cause. But changes in the American landscape may provide some answers. American neighborhoods became increasingly racially diverse between 1990 and 2010. More Americans married someone of a different race. And younger Americans grew more accustomed to interacting with different races and ethnicities in the workplace, in classrooms and socially.

“There’s a rising demand for opportunities to interact in diverse settings,” said Dougherty.

The study also showed that both white and multiracial Methodist churches have higher attendance when located in white neighborhoods; white churches in nonwhite neighborhoods fared the worst. Dougherty suggested stronger schools, better roads, lower crime, higher real estate values may be reasons churches in white neighborhoods have higher attendance.

Mulitracial churches may also produce more internal conflict as cultural assumptions collide, said Crystal DesVignes, pastor of CityWell, a multiracial United Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina. But that’s not always a bad thing.

“A lot of times, conflict is just what we need, so we come out of our comfort zones and we’re able to be honest and vulnerable with each other,” said DesVignes. “It’s part of what it means to be a family of faith.”

Having a “teachable spirit” and being open to learning is key, she said.

The church, which is 55% white, 25%-30% Black and 15% Asian, was founded by a white pastor. But in 2018 it felt it needed a Black pastor.

The congregation’s 175 members have identified four core values they are committed to fostering: welcoming, gathering, listening and offering.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Come in and be just like us,’” said DesVignes. “It’s another thing to say, ‘Come in and we’re willing and open to be changed by your very presence.’”

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Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the  Association of Religion Data Archives  made possible through the support of the  John Templeton Foundation. See other Ahead of the Trend articles  here.

This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com.

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Yonat Shimron joined RNS in April 2011 and became managing editor in 2013. She was the religion reporter for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. from 1996 to 2011. During that time she won numerous awards. She is a past president of the Religion Newswriters Association.