I’m not going to provide any spoilers here, you’ll have to read the article; but in the July/August issue of Christianity Today, sociologist Bradley Wright unveils the results of a study that involved contacting nearly 3,200 churches by email using fake accounts belonging to people with distinct ethnic-sounding names, to see if the nature and volume of the replies said anything about racial attitudes in today’s churches.
Rather, I want to look at two things that were peripheral to the research results.
First, only 59% replied. Now in statistical research, for all I know, that might be a fairly decent response rate. But these are churches and that type of response is to me, very disappointing. For a faith that follows One who taught that a shepherd will leave 99 sheep in the pen to go after the one which is lost, that 41% did not reply is really close to abysmal. (Elsewhere on this blog, we’ve noted the same is true of Christian publishers, media outlets, and parachurch organizations in general.)
If you or someone you know oversees the general email box of your church, or gets the inquiries generated through an online form, make sure they have a mechanism in place where every legitimate email is getting a reply.
Second, it was interesting to note the definition of what constitutes racial diversity in a religious group. If 80% or more of a congregation is of a fixed race (i.e. White, Hispanic, Black, Asian) then that church is not diverse, regardless of how prominent a role some families may be given. Overall, among all religions the rate is 15%, but if you pick a Protestant Church this Sunday the rate is only 5%, in other words, nineteen-times-out-of-twenty, that congregation will be four-fifths or more of one race.
It was noted that one church body, Willow Creek, which also provided the greatest number of responses (and was declared “the winner,” assuming this was a contest) has been intentionally looking for ways to diversify its attendance.
The article is available to subscribers, or in print at newsstands. A number of charts also break down the research results.