More evidence that scientists–especially social scientists–need to study philosophy, particularly the complicated question of what constitutes causality: A study of ELCA congregations has found that the more racially diverse a congregation is, the more it has declined in attendance. The implication being that white people leave when minority races show up. This effect is especially evident, the study says, in older congregations.
But there are lots of reasons that ELCA congregations have been declining in membership! The study says nothing about the theological shift leftward that has caused so many members to leave. Or, even more to the point, neighborhood demographics. “Older congregations” originally started in big cities are nearly always in decline as assimilated immigrants and young families move to the suburbs. These congregations do pick up some racially diverse members from the neighborhood, but since African-Americans don’t have a tradition of becoming ELCA Lutherans (though they could well be Missouri Synod Lutherans, which has a long tradition of black membership), there will be a net loss. But to interpret this as racism is grossly inaccurate. To use statistical terms, correlation is not causation.
The more mixed the Sunday morning pews are, the fewer people are likely to be in them.
That’s the primary finding of a new study from Baylor University published in the current Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Researchers studied the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, where racial diversity doubled from 1993 to 2012, and found that, at the same time, churches with the greatest diversity growth also had the steepest declines in attendance. . . .
The study also found:
- Rises in racial diversity were associated with declines in weekly attendance, especially in the 1990s.
- Older congregations were more likely to see a decline in attendance.
- Congregations in predominantly white communities were more likely to grow.