Ministry Today – Serving and empowering church leaders

Although many church leaders believe this year’s presidential election exposed the continuing stream of racial segregation within the church, the latest National Congregations Study shows some positive signs toward diversity. Among primarily white churches, only 14 percent reported having no minorities as part of their congregations—a 6 percent decrease since 1998. Those same churches saw an increase of black congregants from 27 percent 10 years ago to 36 percent now, among Hispanic churchgoers, this number increased from 24 percent to 32 percent.

Along with becoming more diverse, churches across the nation are also becoming “more informal and more enthusiastic by every measure,” according to the study’s lead researcher, Mark Chaves of Duke University School of Divinity. Almost 60 percent of churchgoers raise their hands during worship, compared to 45 percent in 1998. And the well-worn topic of using drums in church? More than one-third of all houses of worship—including synagogues and mosques—now incorporate drums as part of worship, which represents a 70 percent increase in the last decade.

Of particular interest to pastors, the study also found that both clergy and their congregations are aging. The average church leader in 1998 was 48 years old; the average age is now 53. Equally as significant, one in three churchgoers is older than 60, compared to one in four 10 years ago.

“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.” [, 12/21/08]

Editor’s Note: For more coverage on the changing face of the American family—and how churches are adjusting—check out the cover story of our upcoming January/February 2009 issue that hits newsstands later this week.

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