The Center for Bible Engagement (CBE) has released a research study of the experiences and attitudes of regular church attenders and pastors towards race, diversity and the church.
They found that six out of 10 adults attend a church that is not racially or ethnically diverse, yet the membership reflects the make-up of the surrounding community. The remaining group was evenly split between those who attend a diverse church and those who attend a church that is not diverse and does not reflect the surrounding community. Arnie Cole, President of the Center for Bible Engagement, says the study shows that churches have a long way to go toward integration.
“Recent events in the United States have brought racial issues to the forefront of our public and private discourse,” says Cole. “The conversations occurring across our country are often emotional, difficult and necessary. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called Sunday morning service ‘the most segregated hour of Christian America.’ Today the fact remains that within most congregations a single racial or ethnic group predominates.”
The CBE study further showed that, regardless of church type, the majority of respondents say that racial reconciliation is important to them personally. Respondents who attend diverse churches more strongly agreed that their church encourages congregants to be active in social justice, intentionally promotes racial diversity, and that racial reconciliation is an important issue in their church and community. They were also more likely to agree that their church needs to become more racially and ethnically diverse. The opinions of pastors generally resemble those of congregants who attend diverse churches.
Further, the study showed that church attenders attribute a lack of diversity in the church to three factors: the fact that communities are often still segregated; people prefer what is comfortable and familiar; and diversity of preferred worship styles. Notably, they did not express concern that their congregations would become more inclusive. Pastors and congregants both see a need for everyone to reach out beyond their comfort zones and beyond the walls of their church. Cole says the respondents did agree on some key points.
“Both church attenders and pastors emphasized that God has created all people and that Jesus died for all as well,” says Cole.
“Many spoke of the need to keep those truths central and to work to completely accept people. Churches show this by going around the world to build hospitals, schools and churches. Yet we often struggle to connect with our neighbor across the street.”
Cole adds the survey shows that the Bible plays a key role in how congregants and pastors approach questions of race and social justice. When asked what role the Bible and Bible engagement could play in addressing racial reconciliation and social justice in the church, pastors used words such as “huge,” “tremendous” and “prominent.”
“They didn’t all reach similar conclusions on whether to ignore racial and ethnic differences or to acknowledge and seek to build unity,” says Cole. “Still scripture provides for Christ-followers a common language, perspective, and truth when addressing issues such as race and ethnicity.”
The Center for Bible Engagement (CBE) began in 2003 as a research division of Back to the Bible and has become a major world center addressing Bible engagement and spiritual growth.