Church Lacks Diversity, Officials say
A UMNS Report By Heather Hahn
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Yet the church still has precious few children who are red, yellow or black. The faces in United Methodist pews remain overwhelmingly white.
“The nation is getting younger and more diverse and the church is getting older and less diverse,” said the Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr., the director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. “There is an increasing gap between the makeup of the church and the people God has given us in the United States to minister with.” The church’s racial and ethnic profile remained constant from 1998 to 2008.
The denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration reports that as of 2008, the church’s U.S. membership was 90 percent white, 5.8 percent black, 1.1 percent Asian, 0.7 percent Hispanic, 0.4 percent multiracial, 0.3 percent Native American and 0.2 percent Pacific Islander.
In 1998, the figures show the church as nearly 87 percent white.
The church’s demographics were included in an Operational Assessment of the denomination released earlier this summer. They support the assessment’s conclusion that the church is experiencing a “creeping crisis” of relevance, said Erin Hawkins, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.
“How relevant is a 90 percent white denomination to a nation that’s rapidly becoming less white?” she said.According to the U.S. Census, whites comprised 74 percent of the nation’s population in 2008. Hispanics accounted for 15 percent and blacks 12.3 percent. In the past decade, immigration accounted for about a third of the nation’s growth. By 2042, the census projects the
Hawkins said her commission is working with clergy and lay leaders “to effectively lead outside their own cultural contexts.” That includes training in communication, conflict resolution and connecting with changing neighbourhoods, she said.
“People being able to worship in communities that are reflective of their lives and relationships is not a negative thing,” Hawkins said. When “churches are exclusive of people and promote segregation by not being welcoming,” problems arise.Efforts to reach out are going on across the denomination. The church now has five “national plans” to reach different racial/ethnic or language groups in the
The Rev. Paul Chang, executive director of the Korean American National Plan, said the church needs to be sensitive to recent arrivals from
Chang and other national plan leaders are working with Path 1, a division of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship that focuses on starting new churches.