At the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, we’ve been talking a lot lately about how different communities in the Los Angeles area have undergone significant demographic change, shifting in the last 20 years from predominantly African American to predominantly Latino communities. In fact, there remains only one predominantly African American community in south Los Angeles, while all the others now have majority Latino populations. This change presents many challenges and problems, not the least of which is the fact that there are now dozens—perhaps hundreds (and I’m not being dramatic in this)—of Black churches situated in those formerly African American neighborhoods. Which means that most of these congregations have been transformed from churches where most of their members lived in the surrounding neighborhoods and walked to church on Sunday (indeed many of these churches have very small, or no parking lots—in L.A.!), but who now live as far away as the Palmdale to the north, or Riverside and San Bernardino to the east.
The problem that these churches face is whether can they figure out a way to survive, let alone thrive, when their members are now in many cases former members, worshipping closer to where they currently live. Thus these churches are left with the dilemma of exactly who it is that they should serve, their few remaining long-time members, maybe attract a few more commuting members, or reach out to their Latino neighbors in their ministry and outreach programs. These churches have long ago paid off their mortgages, but they are now empty shells most days of the week, and on Sundays, most are barely one-quarter to one-half full. Several churches we have heard of have only a few remaining seniors, who are too old and lacking in resources to move out of the area, and are left to worship together as they, and perhaps their church, approach the inevitable end.
Yet this isn’t a new problem. [Read more…]