Reversing course, blacks are leaving white evangelical churches


Why are black worshipers leaving white evangelical churches?

The New York Times says to answer that question you must start with how those churches attracted blacks:

In the last couple of decades, there had been signs, however modest, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning might cease to be the most segregated hour in America. “Racial reconciliation” was the talk of conferences and the subject of formal resolutions. Large Christian ministries were dedicated to the aim of integration, and many black Christians decided to join white-majority congregations. Some went as missionaries, called by God to integrate. Others were simply drawn to a different worship style — short, conveniently timed services that emphasized a personal connection to God.

The fruits could be seen if you looked in the right places, particularly within the kind of nondenominational megachurches that gleam from the roadsides here in the sprawl of Dallas-Fort Worth. In 2012, according to a report from the National Congregation Study, more than two-thirds of those attending white-majority churches were worshiping alongside at least some black congregants, a notable increase since a similar survey in 1998. This was more likely to be the case in evangelical churches than in mainline Protestant churches, and more likely in larger ones than in smaller ones.

Reconciliation talk and aiming for integration have not proved to be enough. In particular, predominantly white evangelical congregations are losing black congregants because of a lack of awareness of the concerns of African Americans, or even an effort to learn those concerns. Clearly evident support for Mr. Trump in these congregation has accelerated the exodus.

Were mainline churches, like The Episcopal Church, to have had as much recent success integrating would they also have the difficulty connecting with the concerns of black members? (Mr. Trump aside.)

Image: By The original uploader was ToBeDaniel at Italian Wikipedia – Transferred from it.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY 3.0,

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Chris Bell
Chris Bell

As a matter of interest, what proportion of clergy are black? My impression (from outside the US) is that it is substantial. Do they not draw in others? In Australia, we have many Chinese Anglicans who have migrated here, and often have their own clergy and congregations, but use what the same church as the mainly anglo congregation.

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Jon White

Amongst evangelicals? Using the Southern Baptist church as a proxy, its membership is more white (at ~90%) than the population as a whole (~77%), so I doubt we'd see blacks in leadership roles larger than their population at large. Of course, many African-Americans belong to black majority churches and denominations, which could be described as evangelical, but I don't think those are the churches which are a focus of the article.

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A generation ago or so, it was noted and even much heralded (at least in US religious circles) that Baptist churches with congregations largely of color were joining the Southern Baptist Convention in numbers not ever seen before. Southern Baptists were happy to point to that as meaningful change. As people of color are leaving integrated congregations, I find myself wondering whether congregations of color are still paying their dues to the Convention. (As Baptists are congregational, membership in any Convention, and there are several, is voluntary for any congregation.)

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