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Historically Black Churches Embrace Diversity to Avoid Displacing Older Worshippers

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By Joshua Eferighe, OZY

Religion and Christianity have been ingrained in the fabric of America since its inception. “One nation under God” is committed to memory before time tables are; currency bills state “In God we trust.” Now religiosity is slowly evaporating, and older churchgoing African Americans might be the hardest hit — unless a dramatic, nascent strategy picks up.

Two-thirds of American adults identify as Christian, according to a Pew Research study released in October, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Thousands of churches are closing every year, including 3,500 in 2016, according to the most recent figures. More than 10,000 others are on their way out, says Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

While Pew’s research shows African Americans identify with Christianity the most and attend religious services at least once a week at the highest rate among all communities, they’re not immune from these winds of change. With two in three Blacks born between 1928 and 1945 identifying with historically Black denominations compared to only 41 percent of Black millennials, the mass closing of these churches will affect African American elders the most.

But a simultaneous rise in multiracial congregations is sparking a debate over whether historically Black churches need to start opening up more in order to survive, especially for elders who depend on them. In 2019, 23 percent of all evangelical churches were multicultural — meaning no single racial group constituted 80 percent or more of participants — compared to 15 percent in 2012. The fraction of congregants attending multicultural churches is up to 24 percent, from 18 percent in 2012.

It’s a trend that’s taking off in the African American community too. Today, 18 percent of multicultural churches are led by Black clergy, up from 5 percent in 2007. In the same time period, White leadership of multi-ethnic churches has fallen from 83 percent to 70 percent. More than 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. said: “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning,” there are real signs of a shift.

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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