Churches More Informal & Diverse than 10 Years Ago

December 23, 2008

crossoverchurchx.jpgWorship services may still be the USA’s most segregated hour, but fewer congregations are now completely white, finds a study comparing churches, synagogues and mosques last year with a decade ago.

The National Congregations Study says 14% of primarily white congregations reported no minorities in their midst last year, compared with 20% in 1998.
Such steep change in a short period is noteworthy because “religious traditions and organizations are widely considered to be remarkably resistant to change,” says sociology professor Mark Chaves of Duke University School of Divinity, the lead researcher. “There’s movement in the right direction.”
The study, in the journal Sociology of Religion, compared 1,505 congregations in 2006-07 with 1,234 in 1998. It was based on surveys by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for the 2006-07 data and 3 percentage points for 1998 data.
The increase in diversity is only among primarily white churches; majority black churches are as segregated as ever, Chaves says. Among primarily white congregations, the number reporting at least some blacks rose from 27% in 1998 to 36% in 2006-07; those reporting at least some Hispanics rose from 24% to 32%.
Worship is not only more diverse, it’s also “more informal and more enthusiastic by every measure,” Chaves says, with more shouting, clapping and hands raised overhead in praise. Use of drums in worship jumped 70% in eight years, from 20% in 1998 to 34% in 2006-07. “We find drums almost everywhere, even in Catholic and Jewish services,” he says.
These trends come to life in places such as Crossover Community Church in Tampa, where Sunday’s rap Christmas pageant drew “everyone from grandparents to little kids,” says pastor Tommy Kyllonen, who also goes by his hip-hop performing name, Urban D.
Since he took over Crossover seven years ago, Kyllonen, a pastor’s son whose own heritage is a European mix from Greek to Finnish, has built a diverse congregation — he estimates that the high-energy worship services attract a congregation that is about 50% Hispanic, 30% black and 20% non-Hispanic white.
“It’s still cutting-edge to have our kind of mix, but our society is becoming more and more culturally and racially mixed, and as time progresses, more churches will look like ours,” says Kyllonen, author of Un.orthodox: Church. Hip-hop. Culture.
Another multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation is Sanctuary Covenant Church, founded by Efram Smith in 2003 in North Minneapolis. It uses every musical style from traditional hymns to hip-hop.
“Our idea is to engage everyone in prayer and service, and we found that if people know they’ll have music that is familiar to them, they’re willing to try other styles,” Smith says.
The study also found that both clergy and their congregations are substantially grayer now than in 1998. The average age of the lead clergy person in congregations has risen from 48 to 53, and one in three members are over age 60, up from one in four. This is partly the result of people living longer and fewer young families joining congregations.
“The two-parent family with kids is still the main basis of American religious congregational life, but that kind of household is somewhat less common than it used to be,” Chaves says.
“And each generation, as it reaches that stage of life, seems to be joining or returning to (a religious congregation) at a slightly lower rate than the one before it.”
Source: USA Today

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