Posted on March 15, 2011

Most Pastors Would Like More Racial Diversity in Their White Congregations

Helen T. Gray, Kansas City Star (Missouri), March 11, 2011

Most white pastors would like more racially diverse congregations.

But they understand why they aren’t.

“Worship style, preaching style and traditions of leadership usually cause the separation among us,” said the Rev. Bob Hill of Community Christian Church at 46th and Main streets near the Plaza.

“I think the worship style and preaching style are huge factors for both Anglo congregations and African-American congregations,” he said. “They both cherish their traditions and don’t want to let them go.”

That mirrors the views expressed by the African-American ministers.


Rock said most white churches are serious about integrating.

“When we are with Christ, it will be a multicultural experience,” he said. “If heaven is multicultural, our churches should be multicultural. Also, our churches should reflect the increasing multiculturalism in our country.”

The Sheffield Family Life Center in the Northeast area could be one of the more multicultural churches in the city.

In 2001, it was 40 percent white, 40 percent African-American and 20 percent Hispanic. Gradually the African-American attendance increased. Today the church is 70 percent African-American.

“We want to keep it integrated,” said the Rev. George Westlake III, senior pastor. “We have been intentional to make sure that we have a mix, including in leadership of African-Americans and Hispanics at all levels.

“I think a lot of predominately white churches that don’t have minorities lack diversity in leadership positions, and the music style does not attract minorities.”

He said Sheffield does a lot of black gospel music, but also music heard in white churches.

Westlake thinks the main reason most churches are not integrated is because their communities are not integrated. The community surrounding Sheffield is about 75 percent nonwhite, mainly African-Americans and Hispanics, he said.


Demographics also are a factor, said the Rev. Gail Greenwell of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Mission.

“Our church has a desire for diversity, but the neighborhoods we pull from are mostly white,” she said. “God has created incredible diversity and our communities should reflect that as much as we can,” she said.

The Rev. Keith Herron of Holmeswood Baptist Church, 9700 Holmes Road, said there is a mix of races in his congregation but to a lesser percentage than that of minorities in the area. He said some white churches may not be aware of latent racism in their congregations.

“That is subtly evident when someone ‘other than us’ comes to visit, and our true beliefs or ugly thoughts surface,” Herron said. “The visitor recognizes the signs, however, and knows there are some in the church who would rather they not widen their welcome with a true spirit of God’s inclusion.”


Also, Community Christian and the predominantly African-American Swope Parkway United Christian Church share fellowship, meals and education forums several times a year, and take turns hosting Juneteenth celebrations.