Many evangelical churches have grown in diversity, but are they places of true unity and equity? In the March issue of CT, sociologist Korie Little Edwards explains why the multiethnic church movement hasn’t lived up to its promises–and how it still could.
Join Little Edwards along with Rich Villodas, Rebecca Y. Kim, Naima Lett, and Curtiss Paul DeYoung for a live discussion on the fruits and challenges of multiethnic congregations.
Pastor Richard Johnson struck me as an affable person as he excitedly shared with me the journey that led him to start a multiethnic church. It was 2010, and we were meeting for lunch on Ohio State University’s campus at his request. He was still in the early stages of church planting and reached out when he heard that I—a Christian and a professor who studied multiracial churches—lived in his town.
Over lunch, I listened to Pastor Rich tell me his story about why he chose to leave the black church and make his foray into the multiethnic church world.
“I was praying about a Latina worship leader because we’re going to be diverse, you know, in what we represent up front. We’re doing this because of (every nation, tribe, people, and language in) Revelation 7,” he recalls telling me. “We just have to do this differently.”
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: “Using the National Congregations Study directed by Mark Chaves of Duke University, we’ve been tracking multiracial congregations in the United States since 1998… He 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…
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
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.”
Footnotes 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.
Get all these videos from the #mosaix19 conference videos to kickstart your community leader’s discussions around the topics related to multiethnic diversity. You can purchase the Mosaix19 Digital Access Pass from LifeWay for $99 featuring all 6 conference plenary sessions as well as the 4 main stage panel discussion workshops. These videos include:
“The Coming Revolution in Church Economics”—Facilitated by Mark DeYmaz with Jay Moon, Greg Wigfield, Helen Mitchell, Sherman Bradley & Martin Robinson
“Gracism: The Art of Inclusion”—Facilitated by David Anderson with Derwin Gray, Georgina De La Mora, Chris Beard & Naeem Fazal
“Politics & Election 2020″—Facilitated by David Anderson with Jenny Yang, Gabriel Salguero, Joyce Elliot & Ray Chang
“Denominational Dynamics & Transition”—Facilitated by Mark DeYmaz with Brian Warth (FMCUSA), Kim Gladden (Wesleyan Church), Daniel Yang (Send Network) & Chip Freed (UMC)
Here are brief highlights about what people experienced at the #Mosaix19 conference:
“I’ve never been to a conference where so many different people from so many different backgrounds and denominations shared the same space and worshipped together. I was blown away!”
“The worship was off the chain!”
“There were so many other workshops I wanted to attend. The list of topics was amazing and the speakers were outstanding!”
“This conference is too good not to be offered every year. I’ve already put it on my calendar to bring my entire staff in 2022!”
“It just feels like a big family reunion!”
These are just some of the comments we received after the event. To each and every one of you who attended, tuned in to the livestream online, as well as to those of you who otherwise remained prayerfully supportive throughout the year, thank you for making the 2019 conference another historic event. We had record attendance (1,300+), a record number of speakers involved (112)…
Purchase the Mosaix19 Digital Access Pass from LifeWay featuring all 6 conference plenary sessions as well as the 4 main stage workshops (panel discussions), and…
Mark your calendar for Mosaix’ 5th National Mosaix Conference coming again to Northwood Church in Keller, TX, November 8-10, 2022.
A movement is growing among Christian churches to become places of racial reconciliation and friendship between people of different racial and ethnic identities. But beyond awkwardness, racism and prejudice continue to make relationship-building across lines of race and ethnicity challenging at best and painful at worst. In fact, Clay Polson and Kevin Dougherty, social scientists at Baylor University, found that simply increasing contact may not be enough to break down these barriers.
By encouraging true intimacy between members, multicultural churches are becoming part of the solution. When led with intention and care, they can offer wisdom for any organization seeking to foster true relationships across lines of difference, while still acknowledging that the learning process is continual. What can leaders learn from multicultural churches about cultivating a sense of true friendship between people of different races and ethnicities?
Polson and Dougherty based their research on contact theory, the idea that race relations will improve and people of different racial or ethnic identities will begin to view each other as equals if they spend more time together.
The Apostle Paul devoted his life not only to declaring the gospel but to demonstrating the hope of the Gospel; that is, not only to championing eternal life for “everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16) but to establishing local churches in which men, women and children from varying ethnic, economic and cultural backgrounds could walk, work, and worship God together as one (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:11–4:6) on earth as it is in heaven (Rev 7:9).
With this in mind Paul declared before the Sanhedrin, “I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 23:6) Having himself received mercy, Paul was determined to see the local church extend mercy to all people without distinction. Having been brought near to the living God, he was determined to see the local church draw diverse others near to him, as well. Having been called of God, he was determined to see the church fulfill its collective calling. To this mission and vision, Paul devoted his life; and in so doing, himself to establishing local churches in which believers not only expressed their love for God, but for one another and for biblical neighbors (Luke 10:25–37) beyond race, class, cultural and political divides.
To this mission and vision, pastors and local churches today must devote themselves as well; for the sake of the gospel, to declaring in more than mere words Hope for All.
Will this be the year when the 20% threshold be crossed?
At the turn of the century (2000), just 7.5% of churches throughout the United States had at least 20% diversity in their attending membership. Six years later, that percentage remained unchanged.
By 2012, however, the percentage of churches having at least twenty percent diversity in their attending membership nearly doubled: from 7.5% to 13.7% generally, and to 14.4% more specifically in Protestant Evangelical churches. In addition, churches of 1,000 or more were five times more likely to have such diversity by 2012 than they were in 2000. According to sociologist, Dr. Michael Emerson, co-author of Divided by Faith, the change in percentages from 2006 to 2012 represented “seismic statistical shift in a very short time.”
As you know, Mosaix has long championed a goal to see 20% diversity in 20% of churches by the year 2020. Yet from all that I’ve seen and felt since our 2nd National Conference in 2013, I now believe the 20% threshold will be crossed in 2018 when new statistics are reported and analyzed later in the year; that is, two years earlier than the goal for which we have worked and hoped to achieve!
If and when this happens (no matter the year), the Multi-ethnic Church Movement will emerge from a pioneer stage and enter into an early adopter stage.
In general, you might think of it this way:
1960 – 2000 (Forerunner Stage; 40 years)
2000 – 2020 (Pioneer Stage; 20 years)
2020 – 2030 (Early Adopter Stage; 10 years)
2030 – 2035 (Movement Mainstreamed; 5 years)
Notice that each stage is half the length of the other as biblical understanding, demographic shifts, social conflict, declining attendance, economic uncertainty, technological innovation and more, have and will continue to contribute to the acceleration of the Movement.
In time, then, the Movement will be established and mainstreamed as homogenous churches become increasingly marginalized in a society that suspects segregation, values diversity, and today judges us not by the size of attendance on Sunday morning or, otherwise, mere good words, but by the breadth of our influence and good works in the community (Matthew 5:16; I Corinthians 9:20-22; 13:1).
7 Indicators of the Early Adopter Stage
The development of cross-cultural relationships and competence will be recognized as essential to the fulfillment of a local church’s mission and vision.
Diverse staff teams will become normative through the intentional hiring of leaders more reflective of the community.
A majority of church planters will seek to plant multi-ethnic and economically diverse churches; consequently, a majority of new churches will reflect the multi-ethnic vision.
Entrenched denominational and network leaders otherwise well versed and experienced in homogenous churches/church planting, and who have (to date) championed such a model, will either adapt or be replaced (through attrition or intentionally) with leaders that recognize the why, what, and how of planting, growing, and developing healthy multi-ethnic churches to advance a credible gospel in the 21st century.
Early disappointment will be seized upon, and the flames of disillusionment stoked, by skeptics when churches seeking to become multi-ethnic experience inevitable failures, initial mistakes, or are otherwise misled by self-proclaimed diversity experts chosen more for relational proximity to someone in power than proven expertise in leading organizational development. Church leaders that remain passionate, prayerful, patient, and persistent, will be those who emerge on the other side to establish truly healthy multi-ethnic and economically diverse, disruptive, works.
Pursuit of justice will be widely understood as intrinsic, not peripheral, to the Gospel, and necessitated change in understanding and approach to local mission and compassionate ministry.
An increased number of churches will recognize the need and/or by way of new laws or regulation to establish associated non-profit (CDCs) as well as for-profit (LLCs) works by leveraging assets to redeem communities and create multiple streams of income (beyond tithes and offerings) to help fund mission.
How can evangelical Christians of different ethnicities have a meaningful discourse about faith and race? What might change with rap artist Lecrae “loosening his ties with white evangelicalism”? Here’s the series of articles as it went down, chronologically.
This bibliography by David Swanson lists a good number of helpful books that inform how we go about crossing the bridges of cultures and build real genuine relationships for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These are 4 that he highly recommends:
Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apartby Christena Clevland (2013). The author is a social psychologist and each chapter addresses a different “how” related to social divisions. While Clevland remains hopeful about reconciliation, the book’s particular strength is in showing how entrenched and subtle the sources of our divisions are.
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Christian Origins ofRaceby Willie James Jennings (2011). Like Carter (see above), Jennings’ book describes in detail the way heretical theology set the stage for the eventual social construct of race. The book traces this neglected (intentionally forgotten?) history by following the lives of a few different key individuals from around the world.
Get the digital access pass to Mosaix’s 3rd National Multiethnic Church Conference to be inform and inspired about the landscape of the multiethnic church, and also encourage and equip you to address the following issues:
Overcoming racial divides
Multiethnic church planting and development
Justice as intrinsic to the gospel
Disruptive community engagement and transformation
Advancing the Gospel in an increasingly diverse and cynical society
The digital access pass includes all of the main session talks, as well as the main stage roundtable discussions. And it’s all yours to keep and revisit for as long as you need it.