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Crossing the Ecclesiastical Color Line: Black Churchgoers in Multiracial Congregations


Crossing the Ecclesiastical Color Line: Black Churchgoers in Multiracial Congregations

*This post is part of our online forum with the Pew Research Center. 

Pastors, leaders and local church members held a prayer walk, Bronx, New York/USA, June 10, 2020 (Steve Sanchez/ Shutterstock)

A massive study of Black churchgoers by Pew Research reveals that while Black churches still hold a singular place in the religious landscape, many Black Christians are worshiping across the color line. Even though these findings may seem surprising, and they do indicate a rise in cross-racial congregations, there has always been a degree of interracial interaction in ecclesiastical bodies.

The Pew study found that, overall, 60 percent of Black churchgoers attend Black churches where “all or most attendees are Black and the senior religious leaders are Black.” Thirteen percent attend a church that is predominantly white (or Hispanic or Asian), and 25 percent attend a multiracial church where “no single race makes up a majority of attendees.” 

The data further reveals that among younger Black people, a small majority still goes to a Black church, but significant numbers do not. Fifty-three percent of Millennials attend a Black church, but 18 percent attend a white/other church and 27 percent attend a multiracial church. Fifty-three percent of Gen Zers (born 1996 and after) attend a Black church, but 25 percent attend a white/other congregation and 19 percent go to a multiracial church. 

These data follow a trend in the growth of multiracial churches—where at least 20 percent of the congregation is comprised of people of color–over the past two decades. A study on multiracial congregations found that the percentage of such congregations increased from 6 percent in 1998 to 19 percent in 2019. 

This racial reshuffling, however, has been almost entirely one-way. “All the growth [in multiracial churches] has been people of color moving into white churches,” sociologist Michael Emerson says. “We have seen zero change in the percentage of whites moving into churches of color.” In addition, the percentage of Black attendees at multiracial churches actually declined from 27 percent in 2012 to 21…

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