[excerpted from the Mosaix Global Network newsletter – December 2019]
At the 2019 Mosaix multiethnic church conference, long-awaited new statistics concerning the progress of the Multiethnic Church Movement were shared by sociologist, Dr. Michael O. Emerson.1
In his plenary talk, Dr. Emerson, one of the nation’s leading scholars on race relations and religion, explained: “We’ve been tracking multiracial congregations in the United States since 1998… We did a national representative study in 1998, 2007, 2012, and now just as of two weeks ago 2019.” Telling conference attendees they were “…the first general audience in the entire world to see these (new) results,” he noted that in the early 2000s Mosaix “put out a really bold claim” suggesting that 20 percent of congregations would be at least 20 percent of different racial groups by 2020.”2 He then addressed, in part, whether or not this goal had been achieved.
First, he shared trajectory development of All Congregations, All Faiths (not just Christian).
- In 1998, only 6% of these could be described as having at least 20% racial or ethnic diversity in their attending membership.
- As of 2019, 16% of all congregations across all faiths groups could be so described.
Next, he more specifically discussed the findings in relation to different kinds of churches within U.S. Christendom. What percent of congregations within three broad classifications now meet (at a minimum) the 20% threshold?
- Catholic Congregations: from 17% (2006) to 24% racial diversity (2019)
- Mainline Protestant: from 1% (2006) to 11% (2019), having previously reached 12% in 2012
- Evangelical Churches: from 7% (1998) to 23% (2019), up from 15% in 2012
Concerning the growth of multi-racial/multiethnic churches within Evangelicalism, Dr. Emerson said, “The growing proportion of evangelical multiracial churches, I think, is the big story… It’s more than tripled in these twenty years. By the way, as a sociologist who studies these things and watches how social change happens there’s no way ever I could have even imagined that would be possible; so it’s the work of God.”
He then addressed the question of racial diversity in leadership: “Who’s leading these congregations; who is the head pastor?”
- Asian: 3% (1998) to 4% (2019)
- Hispanic: 3% (1998) to 7% (2019)
- Black: 4% (1998) to 18 percent in 2019, describing the growth as “pretty big change”
- White: 87% (1998) to 70% (2019), down from 74% in 2012
Most of what was presented came as welcomed news to conference attendees, and bodes well for the continued advance of the Movement. Yet in consideration of the “Race/Ethnicity of Congregants in Multi-racial Churches,” one aspect of the data revealed something troubling. While the percentage of Asians, Hispanics and Whites attending such churches “has remained fairly steady” through the years…
- Asian: 6% (1998) to 8% (2019)
- White: 50% (1998) to 49% (2019)
- Hispanic: 16% (2006) to 17% (2019)
… the percentage of Blacks attending multiracial churches significantly declined between 2012 and 2017…
- 16% (1998)
- 17% (2007)
- 27% (2012)
- 21% (2019)
With this in mind Dr. Emerson said, “There’s been some articles, in places like the New York Times, that label things like, ‘The mass exodus of young Black Evangelicals from Evangelical mixed race churches.’” But is this true? Emerson noted that after climbing to 17% in 2006, the percentage of Blacks in multiracial churches “…jumped all the way up to 27% in 2012. Then we had these stories about the mass exodus, often around the election that happened, and you can see… it comes down to 21%. So there is some exodus… Still higher than it had been in the first two times that we measured it, but a fairly substantial decline since.”
The latest research also considered what correlates with the growth of multi-racial churches. In other words, the more a church can be described by these four things the more likely it is to be racially diverse:
- Being Evangelical or Catholic
- Expressive worship
- Having younger members
- Being located in the Western U.S.
Reflecting on the past twenty years, Dr. Emerson said,“…we have much to celebrate, truly. If the goal was to reach 20% in these churches by 2020, at least within the Christian church that has been done…. But now we need to have a bigger and even richer goal.” He challenged the collective Movement to “…move from being toddlers to teenagers and to even adults…” in the coming years, and to use its increasing demographic diversity to work for “..true justice, true reconciliation, and true unity, addressing major issues like white privilege.”
He concluded: “This movement – the Multi-racial, Multiethnic Church Movement – has come so far, farther than I could have ever let myself imagine in this period of time. May God reveal for us and empower us that this vehicle called the church makes right what is broken in this world. Let’s work for churches that are truly hope for all.”
1 Look for this article by Mark DeYmaz in the March/April 2020 edition of Outreach magazine.
2 More precisely, it was in 2006 that Mosaix first cast a vision to see (among other things) 20 percent racial diversity in 20 percent of U.S. churches by the year 2020.