One of Martin Luther King's most famous quotes concerns race and the American church. "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o'clock on Sunday morning…," King remarked in 1963. Sadly, almost 50 years later, the church remains overwhelmingly racially divided. Only between 5% to 7.5% of churches in the U.S. are considered to be racially diverse, a designation meaning that at least 20% of a church's members don't belong to the predominant racial group there.
"Ninety percent of African-American Christians worship in all-black churches. Ninety percent of white American Christians worship in all-white churches," said Chris Rice, coauthor of More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. "…Years since the incredible victories of the civil rights movement, we continue to live in the trajectory of racial fragmentation. The biggest problem is that we don't see that as a problem."
The racial reconciliation movement of the 1990s, which sought to heal racial divides in the church, inspired religious institutions in America to make diversity a priority. The popularity of so-called megachurches, houses of worship with membership in the thousands, have also contributed to diversifying U.S. churches. According to Michael Emerson, a specialist on race and faith at Rice University, the proportion of American churches with 20% or more minority participation has languished at about 7.5% for nearly a decade, Time magazine reports. Megachurches, on the other hand, have quadrupled its minority membership--from 6% in 1998 to 25% in 2007--Time states.
So, how were these churches able to become more diverse, in spite of the church's long history of racial divides? Church leaders and members, alike, can help to ensure that members of all backgrounds attend their house of worship. Everything from where a church serves to what kind of music it features during worship can influence its racial makeup.
Music Can Draw in a Diverse Group of Followers
What kind of worship music is featured regularly at your church? Traditional hymns? Gospel? Christian rock? If diversity is your goal, consider talking to your church leaders about mixing up the type of music played during worship. People of different racial groups will likely feel more comfortable attending an interracial church if the worship music they're accustomed to is featured on occasion. To sate the needs of his culturally diverse membership of blacks, whites and Latinos, the Rev. Rodney Woo of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston offers both gospel and traditional music during worship, he explained to CNN.
Serving in Diverse Locations Can Attract Diverse Worshippers
All churches engage in service activities of some sort. Where does your church volunteer and which groups does it serve? Often, the people served by a church share different ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds than the church members themselves. Consider diversifying your church by inviting the recipients of church outreach to a worship service. Try to launch service projects in a variety of communities, including those where different languages are spoken. Some churches have launched worship services in the neighborhoods where they do outreach, making it easier for those they serve to participate in church. Moreover, staffers at some churches have even chosen to live in disadvantaged communities, so they can reach out to the needy and include them in church activities consistently.