October 6th, 2010
07:29 AM ET

Why Sunday morning remains America's most segregated hour

“Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of Christian America.”

That declaration, which has been attributed to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., used to startle listeners. Now it’s virtually become a cliché. For years, various academic studies and news articles have reported what many churchgoers already know: most American congregations are segregated.

In the latest issue of the academic journal Sociological Inquiry, two professors dug deeper into why Sundays remain so segregated.

The article, “Race, Diversity, and Membership Duration in Religious Congregations,’ said that nine out of ten congregations in the U.S. are segregated - a single racial groups accounts for more than 80 percent of their membership.

Kevin Dougherty , a sociology professor at Baylor University in Texas, and a co-author of the article, says churches haven't kept pace with other institutions.

Socially, we’ve become much more integrated in schools, the military and businesses. But in the places where we worship, segregation still seems to be the norm.

Attracting members of another race isn’t good enough, Dougherty says. Most congregations that draw racial minorities can’t keep them.

It’s not just an issue of attraction, of getting them into the door, but of retention.  Can we keep them? Our research indicates that we’ve not been able to.

Calling a church segregated may make some people uncomfortable because it implies that its members are racist. But many contemporary churches that are dominated by one racial group weren’t formed by racial animosity, Dougherty says.

Parishioners’ prefer to go to church with people who look like them, Dougherty says.

People choose churches where they feel comfortable. Maybe they get challenges there, but they’re going for the comfort.”

The first Christian church was known for its diversity. Jews, Gentiles, and Greeks mingled alongside women and slaves. Biblical scholars have long maintained that the early church’s diversity was one of the reasons it became so popular. Roman society was characterized by rigid ethnic and class divisions.

That was then, though.

How important is it for the  church to strive for that kind of ethnic diversity today - particularly since it seems many people don’t want it, according to the article?

Can American churches remain separate but equal?

Editor's Note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien looks at how some are fighting debt from the pulpit in "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," premiering October 21 at 8 p.m. ET.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Houses of worship • Race

soundoff (374 Responses)
  1. Sludge

    All throughout nature, diversity is not accepted among common species.
    Put red ants and black ants together, they will kill each other. Squirrels of different colors will castrate one another.
    At our local pool, the blacks hang out on one side, the whites hang out on the other side, and this occurs NATURALLY. There are no segration wizards controlling the masses, we dislike and distrust one another,.. period.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:48 am |
    • bloop

      Yet when people say something may be racist...those "offended" scream RACE CARD

      October 6, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  2. bloop

    church of the redeemer, gaithersburg, md. One of the most diverse churches I've ever been to. I love it.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • Phil

      I've been to that church several times. Calling it diverse is a bit of a slap in the face in light of the punks, goths, skinheads, emo, hipsters, leather daddies, steampunks, dieselpunks, gays, lesbians, subcutural internationalists and even the morbidly obese you can't find there.

      October 6, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  3. Jack

    Churches are segregated by culture. Race just happens to correlate highly with culture, but it's not as good fit. One can't blame CNN for playing the race card, though. It does attract attention.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  4. Scott

    Why are we all so worried about diversity in churches? Churches are most effective when they address the needs of the immediate community. Every community is different, therefore every church is different. Black churches are extremely inclusive and welcoming of other races; however, their message and goal may not resonate with whites from a different socio-economic background. Churches should strive to be inclusive in their community action and not necessarily trying creating a rainbow in the pews.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  5. Michelle

    @ Charles... you missed the entire point, poor thing. Eat your Twix and be happy since you don't get it.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:41 am |
  6. yaeger

    I totally misinterpreted the heading of this article. I thought it meant that for Christianity that religions were segregated (which they are). i didn't equate that races within a specific local church. Christian God must be shaking his head.......

    October 6, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  7. Reality

    And the solution?

    Note the following truths in all houses of "worthless worship" and Sunday services/segregations will cease.

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions) resulting in "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and irrational atonement theology.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:37 am |
    • Andrew D

      good luck with that ideology of nothing , I'm willing to bet it gets you just what you preach. YOUR WILL = Nothing

      October 6, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  8. jd

    Visit a Mosque you will see the true diversity. That is because god says in the Quran,"O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you" (Quran 49:13). Muslims truly believe in this and practice this in reality.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:36 am |
    • Reality


      Visit a mosque and you will see the segregation of the "superior" Muslim male from the "inferior" Muslim female. Visit a mosque and get a 24/7 dose of imams teaching that Islamic males will dominate the world and should do so by any means possible resulting in:

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat, 97,172 – 106,047 Iraqi civilians killed, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,116 killed in action, 902 killed in non-combat situations as of 08/10/2010. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15) Followed by the daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings every day in the koranic-driven terror world of Islam.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:45 am |
    • MikeTX

      People should visit my Catholic church to see people of different races and ethnicities.

      Our pastor is black, one parochial vicar Hispanic, another is Asian, and another is white.
      The congregation is more white, because the neighborhoods in the parish are predominately white and my church is easiest one to get to.
      But I work for my church, and we have a large Asian congregation, and I see and meet many blacks and Hispanics. Some people drive miles to come to our church.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Real World

      How many Gay people at your mosque ?

      October 6, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • Michael, Chapel Hill

      I have never seen an Asian, Pakistani, Indian, or Middle Eastern Muslim married to an African American. But you may see scores of White Christians married to African American Christians and vice verse. ISLAMIC EQUALITY ENDS WHEN THE PRAYER ENDS.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  9. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Many of the churches in America spent between 1610 and 1865 teaching that Slavery was OK. After that, many churches spent between 1865 and 1954 teaching that "Separate but Equal" was OK. A lot of the church-going population today are folks who grew up then (look around most Sunday Mornings and compare the amount of gray hair to non-gray) have a hard time reconciling with all that has happened over the last 56 years as compared with the previous 444 years. Add to the above that many of these same people have taught their children to think and believe as they believe. My Father, a new-deal Democrat, could not reconcile this with his own prejudicial upbringing, and tried to impart similar values to me. Fortunately for me, my years in the Navy (submarine duty) taught me that you had to be able to rely on the guy next to you regardless of his skin color, religion, education, etc. I have tried to teach my daughter the same way. Is it difficult? Yes, especially when there are folks of all racial, religious, ethnic backgrounds screaming that they need to maintain their unique cultures/religious beliefs/etc.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  10. Bill, Bloomington Il

    Raj, you are a complete fool Look how segregated neighborhoods are and this is not designed by religion. What a dumb study. This will be interesting to see if big government will step in and violate the so called "Separation between Church and State" mandate. John: I worked with a Jehovah's Witness once. I found it interesting that she could not tell me where the temple was. Mawddawg: Do you work on Christmas Day?

    October 6, 2010 at 9:36 am |

    It is a big deal when as christians we should be leading the desegregation of these social frontiers.......I challenge all christians to seek fellowship w/ churches in your local area, that are predominantly of different races. We can learn alot from each other, and strengthen our brotherhood.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  12. Rev. Al

    We need to integrate churches in this country now!!

    /just not mine.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  13. W00K

    Did they take into account family and culture? no? waste of time.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  14. Roberto

    Its not only in churches, people like to be with their own. Take a look at any company, when they go to lunch, blacks they go with their black co-workers, spanish do the same, asians as well. It's not a big deal.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  15. AmericanPieX

    Now here you can say a people and faith are racist, they separate themselves on the Sabbath day.

    Muslims pray together, rich, poor, black, white, asian, all in the same mosque, all ankle by ankle and shoulder by shoulder.

    Oh and then we have the atheist who love to say "religion is the Opium of the masses" well smarty pants i then atheist equate the existence of man to that of any creature on this earth, we are born, we eat, we die. no significance to man kind nor his achievements. our purpose is as great of that of a rat. my opinion is that atheists can be rats, and I'd like to be greater than a rat, and God gives me that significance, purpose and meaning.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • Charles

      Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, nonfat milk, milk fat, corn syrup solids, soy lecithin, TBHQ), peanuts, sugar, dextrose, cocoa butter, chcoolate, nonfat milk, milk fat & contains 2% or less of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (plam kernel and palm oil), salt, wheat flour, cornstarch, vegetable oil (cocoa butter, palm, palm kernel, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil), whey, TBHQ, soy lecithin, leavening (sodium bicarbonate & sodium aluminium phosphate), vanillin.


      October 6, 2010 at 9:33 am |
    • Edward in DSM

      Seriously, if you are that insecure, you probably should see help. As an athiest, I do find religion to be a crutch to make people feel better about their less the grand life in the overall scheme of things, but if it gets you by, then more power to you. However, I do take exception to being told that I am a heathen and so on and so on. Seriously, its great that you found Jesus (didn't realize he was missing but then again I get the plastic container of milk,not the cartons), but having grown up religious, seeing the hypocricy and double standards, and actually reading the Bible, I realized in 10K years, not much has changed-man still needs to be comforted and reassured that no matter how dull or over all unimportant their lives are, they are "special". I love my life, and do not need a magical sky fairy to tell me how to live to be good to someone else or to assure me that my life is special-life is what you make out of it.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Given the unfathomable expanse that is the universe, it's fair to say that Man is indeed of little significance to the grand scheme.
      To believe in an anthropocentric God is pure egotism. That type of mentality is what got Galileo exiled, and countless others executed, for stating the the Earth is not the center of the universe.
      Put your hand into a bucket of water and then remove it. Can you see the impact you made?
      Accepting this fact doesn't mean that we all should revert to depressed apathy – far from it! The short span we have to "live, eat and die" should encourage us to make the most of it. We may not sway the movements of the stars above, but we can affect those around us during the time we are here. The significance of mankind and his achievements is relevant only to mankind itself. Gods do not give life meaning – we do.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  16. Michelle

    Here's the deal people. We all worship differently which is just fine. I had a problem with this when I was in the Air Force. In Iraq, we had one Protestant service, which meant that there were Pentecostal's, Baptist's, Methodists, and other Protestant denominations. Me being the person that I am, prefer Black Gospel music to sing since I was in the choir. Although we sang Christian songs from different genres, the main song was always an uptempo Black Gospel song and some started to complain. This guy told me that I was wrong (mind you I did not select the main hymn). I noticed that when we sang the uptempo gospels songs, people would pack the tent! I told the guy, compare Christian music to candy, I like all candy but Reese's is my fav and it's the same with Christian music, Black Gospel is my fav! That's the good thing about religion, we can all worship differently but as long as we are worshipping God is what truly matters.We are not all going to like the same type of worship. It's okay people!

    October 6, 2010 at 9:17 am |
    • Charles

      Reese's is crap, so is your analogy.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:26 am |
    • @Charles

      Explain please...

      I prefer twix myself...

      October 6, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  17. Meeky

    Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and His people will come.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:13 am |
  18. mpouxesas

    religion is the opium of the masses...and the modern day america is so ...advanced that more and more people are expressing more...religious inclinations....Especially now with a 'socialist' president...my oh my, people become somehow more ..religious? or they're coming out of their shells...what next? bubba shooting squirels on the roof in the name of religion...yikes!

    October 6, 2010 at 9:13 am |
  19. maddawg


    do you mean that the same mindless, lemming drones that follow their cults in worshiping the man-made gods can't comprehend the simple concept of "we're all humans....no better than one another....and it's OK to co-habitate"

    who could have known such a collection of brainwashed followers that don't think for themselves could get hung up on skin color, nationality, looks or other shallow lemming like qualities?

    this world of endless drones never ceases to keep me laughing at all the followers!!! 🙂

    "never lead...always follow; to keep your lemming head so hollow"

    October 6, 2010 at 9:13 am |
    • lemmingsarefun

      Still waiting for you to join us

      October 6, 2010 at 9:14 am |
    • MikeTX

      Hmm... I don't know what you've read or what church you've been to, if you have been to any.
      What I've been taught is people are all the same. Some do good things, some do bad, but that is due to their actions, not who they are.

      And as a hint, sentences are begun with a capital letter.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  20. Lucy

    BTW: Although it's great for everyone to worship together, I think it's perfectly OK to be segregated as well. After all, God separated everyone at Babel and we naturally prefer to be with our own kind. Frankly, I would prefer to hear my folkie worship songs rather than a boisterous rendition in Espanol!

    October 6, 2010 at 9:13 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.