Changes in Church Demographics: Racial Mixing and Worship Styles

Racial mixing

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.

Worship styles

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Changes in Church Demographics: Racial Mixing and Worship Styles

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    In the churches of Christ in the USA racial diversity that even begins to mirror the surrounding demographics is very rare and by far the exception. So it is with most denominations according to George Barna and the TRG group. The newer non-denominational churches tend to be more racially diverse. Yes it is a little better than it use to be but the standard church of Christ with about 90 members in the south central USA is still overwhelmingly white middle class. Most of the integration within the churches of Christ is token integration either through marriage or some other civil or social phenomenon. The church we go has a few black families but they are well educated and well above the median income so they do not represent the socio-economic demographic of the majority of blacks living around the building. For the last 15 years Asian/Pacific Islanders have been the majority in our little community south of Houston but there is only one family from this background in the whole church. It is not a language thing most them speak English. Most people could really care less about this but it is a serious issue. When church is made of people disproportionate to surrounding demographics then the Gospel becomes exclusive for one group of people. Jesus’ great commission to make disciples of all people is a call to make the Gospel and church culture for everyone. The poor the rich, the educated the uneducated the tall the short everyone.
    I had an unchurched friend who asked me if white middle class people just understand that Gospel better than everyone else. I asked why he would ask that. He said well either that is true or the church culture is based more off of white middle class culture than brutal concepts of faith that affect ones core character and transcend all human divisions such as race, socio economic, ethnicity etcetera. If we wanted our churches to mirror the surrounding demographics and be integrated they would!

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    You are exactly right. We have a church (Assembly of God) that resulted from the merger of a white church and a black church. They were on the front page! Overcoming racial barriers is one of the most deeply felt concerns in America today. You'd think we'd be leading the way. Clearly, we've missed something important.

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