A gradual “desegregation of the megachurches” in the US is taking place, reports Time magazine (Jan. 11).
While the proportion of American churches with 20 percent or more minority participation has remained at about seven percent for the past nine years, that figure for evangelical churches with over 1,000 attending has more than quadrupled (from six percent minority participation to 25 percent in 2007). Some of the country’s largest churches are showing this burgeoning racial diversity, such as Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Community Church in Houston, with almost equal proportions of black, Hispanic and a category including whites and Asians, and Willow Creek, a pioneering megachurch with 20 percent minority participation (considered the threshold when a congregation is considered integrated).
The move to high minority participation is the result of deliberate and long-term strategy. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek “deconstructed his all-white institution” though a process of preaching on racial themes and including minorities in leadership and small group structures. But the changes in Willow Creek may suggest that there is a limit to efforts at racial diversity. Organizational shifts in the congregation resulted in the disbanding of small groups dealing with racial issues.
The promotion of minorities tended to stop when it reached the level of pastoral leadership. One young adult minister who started his own multiracial church said that Hybels stands at the “tipping point” where the dominant white group feels threatened by the growth of minorities. Yet census projections suggest that all clergy will encounter a situation by the year 2050 when the U.S. will contain no racial majority.