Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week

Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week

June 27, 2011 by
Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week

When nearly every sporting event, shopping mall, and entertainment center in the U.S. is racially diverse and the church is not we have a problem. The church is still living in a pre-Civil Rights world of segregation. Only 7.5% of churches are considered racially diverse, meaning no single racial group makes up more than 80% of the congregation.

“The biggest problem is that we don’t see that as a problem,” said Chris Rice, coauthor of More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel.

Enter the much-anticipated new book by Scott Williams, Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week. I first heard about Williams in 2009 when he uttered the words “church diversity sucks” during the Nines Conference. I couldn’t help but smile. Great topic, great title (though I did discourage him from using that as the title of his book).

Williams confronts the elephant of diversity in the room of the church with humor, passion and grace. He includes examples that show us how it’s done (and not done). He shows us how the business world is light years ahead (something he illustrates for us in a guest post) and gives us examples of churches that are doing it right and how worship leaders are addressing diversity.

Diversity as Welcome Mat
For communicators it really hits home when Williams talks about how diversity acts as a welcome sign to visitors. People coming to church to have enough to feel uncomfortable about, we don’t need to make it worse by making them feel alone due to a lack of diversity. Seeing someone who looks like you instantly communicates that you belong. If you don’t understand that I’d guess you’re in the racial majority at your church and have little experience being on the other side. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference.

I saw it in my 2-year-old son when we went camping with a group from church and he was mesmerized by two visiting boys who looked like him. Milo kept saying, “Our hair is same!” and flashing that dimpled smile. I hadn’t put much thought into it, but Milo clearly noticed that most people in our predominantly white church don’t have hair like his tight, springy African curls.

Martin Luther King Jr. on Church Diversity
The most poignant section of the book is an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr. that rewrites Paul’s letter to the Romans as if it were written to Americans in the 1950s. Again, you’d think we’ve come along way in 50 years, but the sad reality is that while the rest of society is confronting these issues and moving on the church is stubbornly refusing.

Intentionally Diverse
Perhaps the biggest lesson from Williams’ book is that church diversity has to be an intentional effort. First you have to recognize that it’s a problem and then you have to decide to take direct action to correct it. Thankfully Williams has a lot of good advice.

Grab a copy of Williams’ book and begin tackling the question of diversity in your church. An easy way to start is to begin acknowledging the issue. Church Diversity Week in January is a good first step.

In the end church diversity moves us closer to God’s ideal and the kind of diversity we’ll see in heaven when every tribe and nation will come together before the throne of God. It’d be nice if we had a little practice before then.


Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

4 Responses to “Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week”

  • beth
    June 27, 2011

    Our small parish is one of the minority, it seems. On a given Sunday, the regulars at mass include people from several continents. One of the 2 Sunday masses is in English, the other in Spanish (helps to have a bilingual priest); Major celebrations are bilingual.

    So what do we do? We attempt to integrate the gifts of the different cultures — not create 2 churches in one building.

    Our parish is small, but we have had baptisms officiated in Vietnamese in addition to English and Spanish. Our music includes traditional hymns, contemporary and praise songs, black spirituals and music from the latino/spanish tradition.

    But most of all, this parish is welcoming to all.

     | Permalink
    • skoz
      June 29, 2011

      I think the important word here is “culture”, because what really divides most churches isn’t the race of the congregation, but the culture of the majority and how it is reflected in their worship (and even in the message, often catering to issues that are most pertinent in that culture). People often seek out a worship experience (and thusly, a church) that most reflects the culture they identify with. Sure, there’s a part of everyone that feels more comfortable when “these people look like me”, but I would submit that someone would stick out much more by singing, dancing, jumping up and down, waving hands, and shouting “Hallelujah” at a mellow, mild-mannered worship service than they would simply by being in the racial minority. It’s an issue of “culture of worship” that is obviously informed by societal cultures, which of course in turn tend to historically trend along racial lines. It’s not simply homogeny of skin color on Sundays.

       | Permalink
  • Brian
    June 30, 2011

    If the neighborhood a church is in is not racially diverse, is it surprising that a church within it is not?

     | Permalink
    • Lisa
      June 7, 2012

      That’s just it, Bryan. You find racial segregation in most churches even in diverse communities. It is freaky stuff if you ever go visiting churches from time to time. There is almost always a majority race.
      When I went to Hawaii, I fell in love with this church that just radiated love. I remember trying to pick out what type of church it was, but I couldn’t do so. There were too many colors there. I still miss it.

       | Permalink