May 18, 2023 - Politics & Policy

American churches remain largely segregated — with one exception

Share who say their congregation is primarily the <span style="background:#5326d9; padding:3px 5px;color:white;">same</span> or <span style="background:#cfd0d0; padding:3px 5px;color:black;">different</span> race/ethnicity as them, by religious affiliation
Data: PRRI; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

The vast majority of U.S. churchgoers, a new survey found, report that they belong to congregations where most people are of their race or ethnicity, but Hispanic Protestants are an exception.

The big picture: Hispanic Protestants, a majority of whom practice evangelical faiths, report their churches are more diverse than others, who remain largely segregated despite the nation's rapidly changing demographics. The report comes amid a broad shift in how Americans perceive and practice religion.

By the numbers: The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute survey of people across the country found that nearly half of Hispanic Protestants (47%) say their churches are composed mostly of Latinos.

  • 26% of Hispanic Protestants say their churches have mostly white members and 20% attended mostly multiracial congregations.
  • That stands in contrast with at least three-quarters of white Christians who say that their churches are mostly white, including 80% of white mainline/non-evangelical Protestants and 75% of white evangelical Protestants.
  • Among Black Protestants, the majority (74%) say their churches have mostly Black members, the survey found.
  • Nearly three in four Hispanic Catholics (74%) say that their church is mostly Latino while only 12% attend mostly multiracial churches.

What they're saying: PRRI CEO Melissa Deckman tells Axios Latino that, as more Latinos become Protestants, they're probably going to megachurches, which are more ethnically and racially diverse.

Context: Newer Latino evangelical churches don't have the same histories as older white or Black congregations entrenched in decades of segregation.

  • Some well-known white churches and denominations were tied to efforts to justify and maintain slavery, while Black churches formed in response to segregation.

Some scholars say the percentage of Latinos who identify as Protestant will keep growing — from 25% in 2020 to 50% by 2030.

Yes, but: Other studies show the fastest-growing segment among Latinos is those who say they are unaffiliated or practice no religion.

  • "The Catholic Church is losing members, even among Latinos. But it's more that Latinos, like other Americans, are becoming disaffiliated," Deckman said.

Between the lines: For decades, civil rights leaders have pointed out that churches have been racially segregated.

  • "I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation ... that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours, in Christian America," Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1960 on "Meet the Press."

Methodology: The Health of Congregations Survey was conducted Aug. 9-30 by PRRI. The poll is based on a representative sample of 5,872 adults (age 18 and older) living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia who are part of Ipsos' Knowledge Panel®.

  • The margin of sampling error is ±1.86 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample.

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