Congregational Growth and Decline: A Closer Look (Part 2)

Another noteworthy theme from Roozen’s synopsis of American congregations is that racial, ethnic, and immigrant communities are growing. The overall increase from 20 percent to 30 percent from 2000 to 2010 is significant; and it seems that nearly all types of congregations (mainline, evangelical, Catholic, or other) are experiencing this same phenomenon.

I recently heard someone in the UCC assert that our denomination was becoming “whiter and whiter.” This is simply not true when we look at the statistics. While the UCC has not dramatically increased in racial or ethnic diversity in the last decade, we are indeed moving toward greater diversity.

According to the latest UCC Statistical Profile released in the fall of 2013, the number of Bi-Racial / Multi-Racial and Asian / Pacific Islander congregations each increased 1.6 percent over the last decade. Native American congregations increased 0.4 percent in the same time period.

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Inversely, the number of White/Euro-American congregations declined 2.8 percent in the past decade; and African American and Hispanic congregations both decreased 0.5 percent.

Roozen says that racial and ethnic congregations tend to be growing congregations and tend to have more young people. If this is the case, Conferences and Associations may want to offer focused resources toward planting and affiliating with racial and ethnic congregations, although the increase only seems to be occurring with Asian / Pacific Islander congregations and not Hispanic or African American churches. On the other hand, the increase may not be significant enough to warrant the designation of resources in this area, as mainline traditions are seeing the bottom end of this increase when compared with other traditions.

There are also a few mitigating factors that are specific to the UCC when we look at these figures. The decrease in White/Euro-American, African American, and Hispanic congregations was due, in large part, to a concentrated loss occurring in 2006 and 2007 from the 2005 General Synod resolution regarding same-sex marriage. Additionally, because of the overall loss of congregations, it would make sense that White/Euro-American congregations have experienced the greatest decrease overall, as they constitute the majority of congregations in the UCC (88 percent of all congregations).

It is interesting to note that bi-racial / multi-racial congregations are growing in the UCC; and further studies are needed regarding whether these congregations began as multi-racial or became multi-racial over time. It may also be that newer congregations tend to be multi-racial—I would imagine it would be difficult for an established congregation to become multi-racial; but it is not impossible, especially if the surrounding neighborhood became increasingly diversified over time. However, I would need to explore this further before making any real claims. In any case, it is encouraging to know that the UCC, little by little, is becoming more reflective of the overall U.S. population. Whether the growth in this area will eclipse overall decline is another story, however.

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