Study Finds that Conservative Churches Are More Diverse Than People Think, Sees ‘Steady Growth in Interracial Worship’

Study examines multiethnic friendships and worship among American churchgoers.

Hip-hop artist Lecrae’s decision this fall to leave “white evangelicalism” stirred up introspection among American Christians about race—and whether evangelicalism is reserved only for whites.

While many evangelicals of color may feel tired of “begging to be noticed, considered, and invited,” they are having an impact, recent research shows.

In the United States today, 1 in 3 self-identified evangelicals is nonwhite, according to a September study from PRRI. This rises to 4 in 10 evangelicals when measured by theological belief, according to a December study from LifeWay Research.

Of those that are white, 1 in 3 attends a multiracial church, reported another study, published in June in the Review of Religious Research.

Researchers Joseph Yi and Christopher Graziul dug into the more than 3,000 responses to the 2006 Faith Matters Survey, and found that more than a quarter of white evangelicals reported having a close Hispanic friend. Even more—about 2 out of 5—said they have a close friend that is African American.

“An early study (analyzing 1978 and 1980 General Social Surveys) found that white members of (mostly) conservative denominations (Baptists) were less likely to attend service with blacks than were white members of mostly liberal denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopalian),” Yi and Graziul wrote. “(Other) recent studies, however, show steady growth in interracial worship, and this trend is more pronounced among conservative than liberal denominations.”

In other words, evangelicals are now more likely than mainline Protestants to attend multiracial congregations and to report African American and Hispanic friends.

But Yi and Graziul dug down even further, splitting the more historical and influential evangelical church families (such as Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists) away from the less prominent and more recent ones (such as Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, and nondenominational churches). The researchers found that American evangelicals divide roughly in half between the “major” and “other” categories of their study.

Their conclusion: the difference in racial diversity is enormous. While 35 percent of “major” evangelical groups are diverse (defined as 25% or more minority), the share jumps to 58 percent for “other” evangelical groups.

In fact, “major” evangelical denominations look a lot like mainline Protestant denominations, 32 percent of which are racially diverse. And “other” evangelical churches look a lot like Catholic churches, 58 percent of which are racially diverse.

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Christianity Today