Racially diverse congregations have increased substantially in the United States over the past 20 years, and the percentage of all-white congregations has declined, according to a study by a Baylor University sociologist and two colleagues.
Overall, multiracial congregations — defined as those in which no one racial or ethnic group comprises more than 80% of the congregants — have nearly tripled, with approximately a quarter of evangelical and Catholic churches now being multiracial.
Other key findings:
- 10% of mainline Protestant churches were multiracial, up from 1%.
- 22% percent of evangelical congregations were multiracial, up from 7%.
- 16% of Pentecostals are multiracial, up from 3%.
- Catholic churches on average continue to be more diverse than Protestant churches with 23% multiracial, up from 17%.
- Less than 1% of Black Protestant churches were multiracial in 1998 or 2019.
And an important final remark:
Despite these changes, difficulties face racial desegregation in American religion, said study co-author Michael O. Emerson, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“The path to diversity seems to be a one-way street, with people of color joining white congregations but very few whites joining Black churches,” Emerson said. “Until congregations confront the historic structures that keep racial groups divided, diversity inside congregations may function mainly as a superficial performance.”
For researchers, what would this confrontation look like?
And what are the causal factors that have let to increased diversity, where it has occurred?
With all due respect to Dr. Michael Emerson, and acknowledging scholars are often understated in their conclusions and often bent toward skepticism, increased diversity in some congregations “may” be “a superficial performance.” But it may be something else entirely, like behaving toward a preferred way of being based on a shift in theological convictions and religious values. It may also be a movement of God, or a historical return toward the early diversity of the Christian movement.
That aside, I’m encouraged by the trend.