Naomi Schaefer Riley, New York Post, February 23, 2015
‘When it comes to race, our churches must reflect the united kingdom of Christ more than the divided states of America.”
That’s the mission of a Southern Baptist Convention-hosted conference in Nashville next month. In the wake of “recent events in Ferguson and with Eric Garner,” the Baptist leaders think it’s their duty to change their flocks. Many leaders of other denominations agree.
But is more diversity in their pews really all that feasible–or even that worthy a goal?
To start with, the people in the pews now don’t seem to be on board for this exercise in social engineering. In a new poll from LifeWay Research, just 40 percent of churchgoers said they think their congregations need to become more ethnically diverse.
Which disappointed the poll-takers. “Surprisingly, most churchgoers are content with the ethnic status quo in their churches,” Ed Stetzer, LifeWay’s executive director, told Christianity Today.
“In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are–and with whom they are. . . Yet it’s hard for Christians to say they are united in Christ when they are congregating separately.”
Another recent LifeWay survey found that 86 percent of US Protestant congregations have one predominant ethnic group.
And, according to the National Congregations Survey, a few more majority-white congregations had some black attendees in 2007 than in 1998, but no greater share of black churches reported having any white attendees.
It’s not much different here in hyperdiverse New York City. A 2011 study sponsored by the Web site A Journey Through NYC Religions found 130 ethnicities represented in the city’s evangelical churches.
But 44 percent are mono-ethnic churches (at least 90 percent of attendees are from one ethnic group) and 89 percent are majority-ethnic churches (more than half of attendees from a single ethnic group).
Aram Bae directs family ministries at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, one of the few truly multicultural congregations in the city. She appreciates that factor, but also says, “People should understand the need for ethnic churches.”
She grew up in a Korean Presbyterian Church–her father is a pastor, too. “It’s the one hour a week where you feel like you’re in the majority.”
Bae is skeptical of any special obligation for churches to bring people together from different backgrounds. She’s certainly not opposed to more diverse congregations, but she wonders why people just can’t work to improve race relations at work or among their friends.
The advantage of neighborhood ethnic churches, she says, “is that they feel more like a family.”