Why Churches Remain the Most Racially Segregated Institutions in America

Baylor_IMDr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, referring to the fact that Blacks and Whites tended to worship in churches where the congregation was mostly of one race. Even today, a recent survey found that 86 percent of all church congregations in the United States are made up of parishioners of mainly one racial or ethnic group.

A new study led by a sociologist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has found that church congregations that make an effort to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their membership tend to lose more members than they gain. The study found that in congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church the level of racial diversity doubled from 1993 to 2012 but average church attendance declined by 22 percent.

Kevin Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, stated that “racial diversity itself is not a detriment to growth. It is the process of changing the racial composition of a congregation that causes difficulties.”

Dr. Dougherty added that “new congregations started as multiracial represent the best opportunity for diversifying a denomination.”

The study, “Congregational Diversity and Attendance in a Mainline Protestant Denomination,” was published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. It may be accessed here.

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