Recently I was asked to comment on whether or not the American Church is prepared to reach the global village. My response? “We’re not yet able, nor even willing, to reach diverse people living right here at home across the street!” It’s sad, but true.
Consider just a few of the facts:
- 92.5% of churches in the United States are racially segregated; i.e., 80% or more of individual membership in these churches represents a single (homogenous) people group;1
- Churches in the United States are ten times more segregated than the neighborhoods in which they are located and twenty times more segregated than the public schools in their neighborhood, as well;2
- Between 1990 and 2007, church attendance in the United States increased by 446,540 people though the population in general increased by 56,819,471.3
Can you say, correlation?
Surely it breaks the heart of God that so many churches are segregated along ethnic and economic lines and that little has changed in the more than one hundred years since it was first observed that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Christ-followers, particularly, should take note: for an increasingly diverse and cynical society will no longer find credible the message of God’s love for all people when it’s proclaimed from segregated pulpits and pews.
More than this, the segregation of the local church unintentionally perpetuates systemic racism in society according to the research of sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith and painfully revealed in their groundbreaking book, Divided By Faith (Oxford University Press, 2001).
Why? Because, ultimately, racism is a spiritual problem. As such, it is best dealt with not by educators or legislators but by spiritual leaders serving in houses of faith through which diverse men and women can learn to walk, work and worship God together as one. Indeed, we can educate and legislate our way beyond the past; and well we should. But in the end, unless individual hearts are reconciled to an eternal God who loves all men and women equally, who considers them His own, there will be no authentic motivation to love those who are different than us; consequently, there will be no peace on earth or goodwill toward men.
1From the research of sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith originally published in the groundbreaking book, Divided By Faith. Oxford University Press, 2001.
2Ibid., the same study having been updated in 2007
3Dave T. Olson: The American Church in Crisis. Zondervan, 2008