Diverse Congregations

We’ve heard the stats:nativity_solomon-raj (1)

  • For the first time in modern U.S.history,  the majority of all Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Mixed Race births reached 50.4 percent of the population.  (Source)
  • The median age of worshipers in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is 61.  (Source)  In the Episcopal Church the median age is 57.  (Source)  In the United Methodist Church it’s also 57.  (Source)  For Southern Baptists it’s 49.  (Source)
  • Only 5 percent of Protestant churches and 15 percent of Roman Catholic churches are multiracial in the U.S. (Source)
  • The number of American mosques increased 74 percent since 2000 and Islamic houses of worship tend to be ethnically-diverse (Source)

I could go on and on in terms of stats that show both our diversity in congregations and our lack of diversity.  When a congregation describes themselves as “diverse” I have no idea what they mean.

  • Do they have a percentage of non-white members in a predominantly white church, or a percentage of white members in a predominantly non-white church?
  • Do they have a mix of gay and straight members?
  • Do they have a variety of ages?
  • Do they have a variety of political perspectives?
  • Do they have a variety of socio-economic backgrounds?

One of the most unexpected sources of diversity in congregations, from my experience, is theological  – although most members are basically unaware of the breadth of their heterogeneity.  Church people tend to believe that the person sitting beside them in worship generally agrees with them on matters of heaven, hell, and salvation.  They might find it shocking to learn that some of their brothers and sisters in Christ at table with them at the monthly potluck have ideas about ordaining GBLT members that are the opposite of their own.

Churches are finding that they don’t know who they are, what they stand for, or “what they believe.”  It’s all part of the postmodern struggle to replace the importance of “right beliefs” with  belonging to a community and behaving according to the expectations of that community.  In this realm, we are quite diverse.

What are you finding in terms of congregational diversity?  Is it hidden?  Is it obvious?  Is it absent?

Diverse images of the Nativity can be found here.

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2 responses to “Diverse Congregations

  1. I hate the word “diverse” with regards to churches. Without a modifier, it’s meaningless to me. My primary desire is for a racially diverse church (we are a multi-racial family) but I find that churches use that term indiscriminately. I would really like to ban it from websites and CIFs. “theologically diverse” “socio-economically diverse” “racially diverse” yes. But just plain “diverse” makes me nuts.

  2. I agree. It means nothing without more information. I recently spent time with a very diverse church, but from all physical appearances, they were not diverse at all.

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