MSNBC reports this morning that “For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.”
But not only will this demographic change to a “majority of minorities” impact government policies, it will also impact small churches. The article points out what we already knew: minority populations are growing at a faster pace than the aging white population. The previously reported American Community Survey had pegged white children under 2 as 51% of that demographic, but larger than estimated rates of minority births have moved the needle. White children under 2 are now just below 50% of that group.
What does this mean for small churches? First, small churches, especially rural or small town churches, tend to be segregated by race. Obviously with a declining white population the handwriting is on the wall. Small, predominantly white churches will either broaden their outreach or eventually die as their members age and die.
But, white churches cannot just say “We need minorities to survive” because that demonstrates a self-serving attitude that is not biblical. Attitudes change slowly among older church members, but even older members can be led to broaden their vision, and begin to take intentional steps to reach out.
Most small churches will need to develop what Wendell Griffen calls “cultural competency.” This involves an understanding and appreciation for the ethnic diversity of God’s creation. And, it involves understanding that to meaningfully reach out to others means more that “signing them up.” It also involves sharing decision-making, leadership, and authority.
Professor Soong-Chan Rah, who wrote The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity, has excellent insights to offer in his book, and on his blog. If you haven’t read his book, it is one of the must-reads for this decade, and will give you (if you are white) an entirely different perspective on how other ethnic groups view evangelicalism as a whole.
Add to this new perspective, the additional insight that now married couples comprise less than 50% of US households for the first time; that same-sex couples are now 1-in-10 of unmarried couples living together; and, that several states, my own Virginia included, will flip to “minority-majority” status in the next 10 years, and we have the ingredients for major sociological shifts.
What we do not need are shrill voices of doom using these figures and trends to forecast the end of society as we know it. Social patterns, including family patterns, in the US and world are changing. These changes present challenges to churches in communicating the gospel, and in reaching out to include a diverse representation of our communities within our congregations.