Ethnic congregations up 66% for Southern Baptists since '98
Just over 10,000 congregations (10,049) of 50,768 congregations in the convention identified themselves by an ethnicity other than Anglo in 2011, the most recent year for which detailed data on ethnicity is available from LifeWay Christian Resources' Annual Church Profile database.
In 1998, non-Anglo congregations totaled 6,044.
"It's clear that Southern Baptists have been multi-ethnic and are becoming an even more multi-ethnic convention of churches," said Joseph Lee, senior pastor of Connexion Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., a mostly Korean Southern Baptist congregation. "The trend is gaining speed week by week. For example, the ethnic churches grew from zero to more than half of the total number of churches in our county in the past 10 years."
The diversification of the convention comes at a time when the United States as a whole is growing more diverse. USA Today, for example, has reported that the number of all-white communities in the country has plummeted since 1980, according to an analysis of census data by Penn State University's Population Research Institute. Less than a third of U.S. counties are 90 percent Caucasian.
The largest jump in non-Anglo congregations within the SBC from 1998 to 2011 has predominantly come from an 82.7 percent increase in the number of African American congregations.
For Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and the first-ever African American president of the SBC, the diversification of Southern Baptists has become very personal.
"I remember at one time I was the only [African American pastor] in my city who was Southern Baptist," Luter said. "I caught a lot of flack as a result of that. Thank God I'm able to see some of the fruit of my labor -- not only at my particular church but in the associations and conventions across the country."
Hispanic congregations also have seen a significant increase over the same span -- nearly 63 percent. The number of Asian congregations affiliated with the SBC has grown by 55 percent.
Because of the nature of Annual Church Profile (ACP) statistics, it's impossible to know the diversity of individuals within the SBC -- only the diversity of congregations.
"We are only able to categorize congregations by ethnicities -- not members -- because the ACP only asks the predominant ethnicity of congregations, not individuals," said Richie Stanley, director of NAMB's Center for Missional Research.
Non-Anglo congregations now account for nearly 20 percent of the SBC, compared to 13.4 percent in 1998. In 1990 about 5 percent of congregations in the convention were primarily non-Anglo.
"We are grateful to God for this diversity," said Ken Weathersby, NAMB's presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations. "It is saying that the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer monolithic. The Southern Baptist Convention is very diversified. It is open to all peoples -- regardless of ethnicity and race."
Despite the SBC's growing diversity, there are still a variety of ethnic groups in North America with no Southern Baptist presence among them. Mark Hobafcovich, NAMB's national coordinator for church mobilization, points to the Albanian people as an example. There are more than 500,000 Albanians in the United States but no SBC congregations and only one evangelical church among them, he noted.
"As Southern Baptists partner together to plant new evangelistic churches, Albanians and other people in North America can hear the Gospel in their heart language, come to faith in Christ and be discipled so they in turn can make other disciples and plant churches here at home and throughout the Albanian diaspora around the world," Hobafcovich said. "Only by a movement of God can we see biblical multiplication and the Kingdom of God exponentially expanded."
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).