The most visible impact of this immigration on American congregations since 1998, however, seems to be that it has made predominantly white congregations somewhat more ethnically diverse rather than dramatically increasing the number of congregations predominantly composed of Latinos, Asians, or immigrants of whatever nationality. Perhaps this represents a shift in the impact of post-1965 immigration on American religion from an earlier phase in which the main impact was the emergence of predominantly immigrant congregations to a current phase in which the main impact, beyond replenishing the immigrant congregations created earlier, is to increase ethnic diversity within predominantly white congregations.
In short, white churches are adding more non-white members. And it’s about time. This one trend has the potential to dramatically change the face of American Christianity — for the better.
Consider this — black evangelical churches tend to vote Democrat and to be concerned with issues of social justice. White evangelical churches tend to vote Republican and to be concerned with issues of sexual morality. Put the two together and you have something much better than the two apart.
More worship services today, compared with just 9 years ago, contain drums, jumping or shouting or dancing, raising hands in praise, calling out amen, visual projection equipment, and testifying by people other than leaders. Fewer services include choirs or a written order of service. None of this change is dramatic, but recall that we are looking at change only since 1998. That short time span and the consistency of the pattern across this set of worship elements increase our confidence that this is a real trend, and an impressive one.
Most of this increasing informality is occurring among Protestants-Catholic churches have increased only in the use of visual projection equipment and drums-and all of the increase in jumping, shouting, and dancing is among black churches. Overall, however, there seems to be a fairly general trend at work here, and probably one that partakes of a broader trend in American culture towards informality.
Despite a trend within the emerging community toward older, more liturgical forms, the overall trend is toward informality. But this reflects society and, I think, on the whole is quite healthy. The model for the assembly is not the theatre or a concert; it’s a family gathering. We should dress for church as we dress for Thanksgiving. After all, we’re family.