The Gift of Our Changing Culture
Most of us have heard a variation of this statement: “The United States is becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. To stay ‘relevant’ we must adapt to this new reality.”
I have often wondered exactly what this statement is supposed to mean for the church. Does it mean churches filled primarily with white or black people should somehow forget such folks and focus on other people? Does it mean churches should start playing some imagined stereotypical Hispanic music? It is never clear. Rather, it seems like the statement is typically more a veiled threat: Get hip (somehow) or disappear.
Let’s first carefully consider the facts of the demographic transitions occurring in the United States, and then let’s think just as carefully about what they mean for ministry.
Before 1965, the United States’ overtly racialized immigration laws ensured that most immigrants would be European. But in 1965, a new immigration act was put in place, opening up immigration to the world. The result has been clear. Before 1965, more than 90 percent of all immigrants to the United States were from Europe; since 1965, more than 90 percent have been from anywhere except Europe.
The changing immigration trends have impacted the racial and ethnic composition of the United States. In 1960, 85 percent of the population was white, and 11 percent was black.
Today, the white population has declined to 64 percent. The black population has increased to 12.5 percent. The percentage of Asians has increased from 0.5 percent in 1960 to 5 percent today. People of multiple racial groups, not measured in 1960, constitute about 3 percent of the U.S. population currently. Hispanics (now 16 percent of the U.S.) have grown the most dramatically, from less than 7 million in 1960 to more than 50 million in the 2010 census, a sevenfold increase. To put that number in perspective, now only Mexico has more Hispanics than the U.S.