Racial Diversity in American Churches

The Pew Research Center has recently posted a graph showing the racial diversity of various American denominations.

diversity

The adult US population has a diversity score of 6.6, whereas the Churches of Christ score 6.1 — very close. In fact, the US is 66% white, while the Churches of Christ are 69% white. And, frankly, I doubt that the statistics are accurate within 3%, given the difficulty of getting good numbers from a denomination like the Churches of Christ.

So that’s good. In fact, only the Assemblies of God and Church of God (Cleveland, TN) more closely reflect the overall racial mix of the US population.

But what’s bad is that we achieve this level of diversity largely through highly segregated congregations. Racial diversity is just a statistic if it doesn’t reflect actual mixing of the races in Christian fellowship and mission. In fact, I’m not sure what institution or event you could visit that would reflect the racial mix of the entire denomination.

But if we could just muster the courage and gospel conviction to merge some churches …

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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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3 Responses to Racial Diversity in American Churches

  1. John says:

    I have given this personal observation before, but, I think worth the mentioning. Most black congregations of the Church of Christ are theologically conservative, but politically and socially progressive. The members of these churches know that to join white congregations would be to subject themselves to the “political and social tests” to determine if they are truly American Christians.

    There is no doubt there would be white members who would be totally obsessed to know how the black members vote and to hear some insinuate, to the point of hearing what was NOT said, that black people were actually happier before the Civil Rights movement. Who is to blame them for not wanting to go through all that?

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John,

    Studies show that churches grow best when they try to appeal to people like themselves. Church growth experts routinely counsel us to “contextualize” the gospel for the congregation we have. So all science and logic dictate that white and black churches be separate, because they are, in this country, culturally different in many ways — as you say.

    I remember 20 years ago making that point in a church committee meeting, and then being called down by one of my best friends: “What you say may be right in practical terms. But it’s morally wrong!” I was quite taken aback. He was right.

    The NT is, in very large part, the story of the apostles struggling to bring Jews and Gentiles not only into the same church but the same congregations — despite their long ethnic and cultural differences. It would have been so much easier to have separate Jewish and Gentile congregations, but that idea seemingly never even came up for discussion. Rather, Paul declared Peter condemned for his refusal to eat with Gentile believers — that is, to share the love feast and Lord’s Supper with them, effectively making them a separate congregation.

    So I’ve not figured out how to reconcile the practicalities of church growth with the theology that compels us to be a single congregation. It’s not enough to recognize other races as separate but equal in the eyes of God. We are to be a common fellowship.

    And that’s no easy thing. Any church merger happens by the hardest. A merger of black and white churches would require Divine intervention. And we should pray for exactly that.

  3. John F says:

    Raised in the Northwest in the 60’s, our experiences were no doubt different. There were 9 “black” students in a school of 1500. Two families were part of my church family then and friendship continues today. Others were in drama productions with me. When we produced “A Raisin in the Sun” objections were raised by one “black” family to the “N” word in the play. As a group of “non blacks” we stood with their decision.

    What made the difference in the church was that these families did not “buy in” the larger “black civil rights” but engaged on a different basis — relationships in Christ. We ate in one another’s homes — it is hard to hate or resent over roast and mashed potatoes.

    What may be more problematic today is the continuing “pastorization” of many black churches in (perhaps unintentional) emulation of other groups. Of course, many “white churches” are rushing into the same path.

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