Racial and Ethnic Congregations Grow
Racial and ethnic congregations are bucking a trend toward decreasing vitality in American congregations, according to a new study published by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The study, “A Decade of Change in American Congregations: 2000-2010,” was presented along with the latest Baylor Religion Survey at the Religion Newswriters Assocation annual conference in Durham, North Carolina, last weekend.
Congregations with 50 percent or more minority participants grew from about one-fourth of all U.S. congregations in 2000 to nearly one-third in 2010, the study revealed, but overall, there was a steep decline in the financial health of American congregations, as well as continuing high levels of conflict, aging memberships, and declining numbers.
Injecting Vitality into American Religious Life
The contrast between the growth of racial/ethnic congregations and the weakening of others was presented in light of census projections that show people of color becoming a majority of the U.S. population by 2050 and the number of non-white children born in the United States exceeding 50 percent by 2023.
Non-white Americans are, “by and large,” creating their own congregations rather than participating in historically White ones, the report said. Nonetheless, racial/ethnic congregations are injecting a “strong dose of growth and vitality into America’s religious life.”
These congregations are disproportionately Evangelical Protestant or non-Christian, urban and Southern. Their worship is more likely to be contemporary and innovative, which is significant because the study found that innovative, contemporary worship correlates with high spiritual vitality and numerical growth.
Racial/ethnic congregations are more likely to hold to a theology that is moderate or liberal than majority White congregations, but their use of technology tends to be modest to marginal. On average, they count less college graduates amongst their numbers, but they benefit from retention of their young adults.