Guess Who’s Coming to Church: Multiracial Congregations Triple Among Protestants

Sociologists evaluate the progress and future of the evangelical push for church diversity.

The multiethnic church movement is working: Protestant churches in the US have become three times more likely to be racially diverse than they were 20 years ago.

The percentage of Protestant churches where no one racial group makes up more than 80 percent of the congregation tripled from 4 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2012, according to new research out this week from Baylor University. Evangelicals and Pentecostals show even higher levels of diverse churches, up to 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Overall, nearly 1 in 5 of all American worshipers belong to a multiethnic congregation.

These findings—based on data from the most recent National Congregations Study—confirm a trend many evangelical leaders have pushed and prayed for, but research also indicates there is more work to be done to keep up with shifting demographics in the US and ensure the changing numbers reflect a healthy, biblical approach to diversity.

“Congregations are looking more like their neighborhoods racially and ethnically, but they still lag behind,” said Kevin D. Dougherty, Baylor sociologist and the lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. “The average congregation was eight times less diverse racially than its neighborhood in 1998 and four times less diverse in 2012.”

Dougherty and co-author Michael O. Emerson, provost of North Park University, also suggested that “American congregations may be growing in diversity without altering the social conditions that inhibit full racial integration.”

Most multiethnic churches (71%) are led by white pastors, and over the years, their makeup has remained half white. (Previous research from Dougherty …

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