How White Is the Emerging Church?

How White Is the Emerging Church? May 8, 2012

Pretty white, as it turns out. I asked Todd Ferguson of Baylor University to run crosstabs on the data that I collected in 2005. During my dissertation research, I collected 2,020 surveys from eight ECM congregations. You can read about my research and see some of the data in my book, The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement.

Since then, I’ve let several researchers have my data for their own work. Todd is among them, and I asked him to correct a glaring oversight in my book — I neglected to offer this snapshot of the racial profile of the eight congregations I surveyed.

93% of emergents are white, according to my research. This is not generalizable across the movement — my research methods were not set up in that way. This is, as I said, a snapshot of eight congregations on a single Sunday in 2005. The most diverse church in the study was Cedar Ridge Community Church, at which Brian McLaren was the pastor at the time. Here’s a graphic:

The racial make-up of the emerging church movement.

Years ago, Soon-Chang Rah asked in Sojourners Magazine whether the emerging church movement is “for whites only.” I responded by asking whether Sojourners is for straight only, because it seems to me that we face the same problem: we’d like to be broader than we are, but that’s as tough as getting white and black students to sit next to each other in a public high school cafeteria.

In other words, it’s easy to criticize our movement or Sojo or North Park University (where Rah teaches) or the Evangelical Covenant Church (the denomination with which North Park is affiliated) for being too white. Yes, we’re all too white. The real question is, How do we diversify a movement that is purposefully non-evangelistic?

That is, the ECM is about a particular people trying to solve particular problem. If our solution isn’t interesting to everyone, is that a weakness that we should correct?

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