Changing Demographics to Impact Small Churches


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.

4 thoughts on “Changing Demographics to Impact Small Churches”

  1. Did you ever wonder why God different Nations? He knew the lands they would come from and He enabled them to live in those lands. They had the proper skin tones and were able to eat the animals they did because that is the way it was meant to be. I love all people in THe Lord but at times I wonder at the stupidity of western poloticians. It would be better for everyone to live in their own environment instead of coming to strange lands. I live in a very small country, Northern Ireland, and already there is nearly as many outsiders as there is people who were born and bred here for 100’s of years and probably longer. Western people can’t adapt like these foreign imports plus these people frown upon Birth Control and they breed like rabbits.Before god, I honestly feel that all foreigners should be encouraged to repatriate, for the old saying is “When Rome, do as the Romans do” but they do as they please. Maybe the early Romans had it right. Not only do they live as they want they also are very anti-christian and very good at getting others to listen to them and to join their Religion. Please don’t think that I am a bigot, but even here in Northern Ireland people can’t get work cos theoutsiders alwyas work for less.

  2. I didn’t get finished my blog, I was also going to say that the Majority of people from across the world are not happy in Western Culture anyway and I believe that the Most of them would be glad to go home if their place of birth was made safe. You see, not only the oppressed come, the fanatics come posing as the people they are with, and once they settle in a Western country they feel it’s their duty to make it like the place they came from. Another old saying “A leopard can’t change it’s spots” The western Governments should round up all the Troublemakers, in spite of who it annoys and let the ordinary good folk live in Peace where they were born and bred. I would venture to say that most of them would heartily agree with that. But it’s too late now, all we can do is leave it with God and let Him sort it out. May God have mercy on all our souls. D.Glass

  3. The old church growth homogeneous unit principle, though often frowned upon as bigoted, has nevertheless proven true for years. That means the key for these small all white churches is not to just start trying to “recruit” members from minorities. Rather, they must work to change their culture so that mixed becomes the new homogeneous unit. That may sound simplistic, but people DO tend to choose churches where they feel most comfortable and that includes racial comfort. For the small church to thrive, they must first change society, one person at a time.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

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