America’s Churches Are Becoming More Racially Integrated, But Have a Long Way to Go

In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” with Whites and Blacks attending churches that were rigidly segregated by race.

A new study authored by Kevin D. Dougherty of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and Michael O. Emerson of North Park University in Chicago, finds that the percentage of multiracial church congregations in the United States nearly doubled between 1998 and 2012. The authors found that one in five church goers, now is a member of a multiracial congregation. The study defines a multiracial congregation as one where less than 80 percent of the congregation is of the same race or ethnicity.

The authors found that Catholic churches tended to have the most racially mixed congregations. But the study found that the percentage of Protestant churches that had multiracial congregations grew from 4 percent to 12 percent. In 2012, one third of all congregations were composed of worshipers from a single race or ethnic group.

Despite progress in church integration, congregations remain far more segregated than the society in general. Dr. Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, states that “congregations are looking more like their neighborhoods racially and ethnically, but they still lag behind. The average congregation was eight times less diverse racially than its neighborhood in 1998 and four times less diverse in 2012.”

The full study, “The Changing Complexion of American Congregations,” was published on the website of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. It may be accessed here.

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