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. TimStar

    Our church is segregated by choice.
    We like it that way. Keep your big government out of our religion too.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • Andrew D

      don't fool your self any longer , your serving the creature not the creator, that feeling your getting is as close to the truth as you can get which is not near god.

      October 6, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  2. Andrew D

    Until we as a people begin living his will and put aside our foolish indefference and fear of our fellow cultures we reside with on this rock , I really can not see us having the hope in a hope filled faith based on love of his will and not the misguided heart filled with fear and indifference, a self driven belief of those who unknowingly serve the creature and not the creator.
    I find serving from my heart according to his will , and not serving the desires of my heart to satsfy the foolishness of the feeling in my heart to make self feel good has a truth in it , that humbles.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  3. VABaptist

    "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."

    Someone should point that out to Obama, with his love of the "historic black church". True Christian churches are not associated with a particular race and to divide them in such a way is racist.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • Andrew D

      Is that a lamp pole in your eye, or the whole forest. sad but true

      October 6, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  4. Av

    People are just reluctant to change. That applies to anything.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  5. Noorullah

    Islam is the only religion that displays universal brotherhood and you can see that in any mosque through out the world. Allah has created everyone equal and there is no difference between the humans except in Piety. Bilal, an african was the caller to prayer for the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Suhayb was from Rome. Salman was from Persia. Abdullah bin Salaam was Jew before he became a muslim. All of these were distinguished companions of the Prophet (PBUH). Come to Islam and Come to Peace.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:14 am |
    • Reality

      Obviously you missed the following previously noted:

      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 11:44 pm |
  6. Chris

    Religion is the opposite of peace. Government is the opposite of freedom.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Andrew D

      lost and not knowing

      October 6, 2010 at 10:43 am |
    • Phil

      To what group do you belong and what is your level of devotion to its leader?

      October 6, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  7. 2 Dads & 2 Kids

    Christians, we call them the Three B's....Bullies, Bigots and Believers.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  8. Joyce

    I grew up as the daughter and grand-daughter of preachers and visited many churches besides our own. I kept waiting for them to list the obvious reason for the segregation but they never did. People come from different cultures and most want to attend a church that is more like what they are used to. From my experience a black church service will go on for hours where most white churches will only have a service lasting for about 2 hours. A Catholic church is very formal where a Protestant church is less formal. People go where it feels comfortable to them.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  9. MsMHS

    I don't know about others but I have been most uncomfortable when my church has brought in black gospel singers - I wasn't raised with people moving and raising their arms in song - and to see that makes me think I am anywhere but in church. I believe that different races have different ways of expressing joy to their Maker - not right or wrong, just different from each other.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  10. David

    Don't let Obama read the study. He'll want to "fix" the problem. Like he "fixed" the economy and health care.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • Erik

      Dow's near 11,000 and more people have healthcare. Glad to see wer'e not where we were two years ago unde Republicans, i.e., Dow ear 6,000 stock mark and less healthcare. Thanks for playing though, David.

      October 6, 2010 at 10:05 am |
    • 2 Dads & 2 Kids

      There is not enough time or money for him to repair the damage the Republicans have done to our nation, fiscally or socially. Shut up and crawl back under your rock Tea Bigot.

      October 6, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Pastor Evans

      Why are you talking about Obama? He's not GOD, neither was Bush I or II, Clinton, Regan, Carter, etc...

      October 6, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  11. Pete

    I went to church on Second Life last Sunday and sat in a pew beside a pink sparkling dolphin and a ninja. Now that's diversity.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:02 am |
    • Phil

      Sweet!!! If only my old church were that diverse.. and interesting..

      October 6, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  12. CM

    Interesting that they talk about the struggle to attract minorities and keep them. How come the minorities have to come join the white churches? Because even these well intentioned folks would never consider going to a black or hispanic church... we want them to tone down their spirited religion and stop talking about poverty and social justice. They need to learn to be REAL christians and only go to churches that suck the joy out of religion and replace with judgment while focusing their sermons on gays and commies. God forbid white church-goers ever set foot inside a poor church and see the the poverty they so casually dismiss as a result of divine punishment for laziness.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  13. Erik

    Church: a waste of time that inculcates "believers" while enriching their leaders and an organization based on baloney. Wake up an drop this bs.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  14. RickD

    No matter how you cut it – churches and religion suck!

    October 6, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  15. Billy

    "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."

    What a pathetic joke of a study. Are you positively retarded? That is NOT SEGREGATION!!! It takes 100% for segregation FOR ONE. Two...what if that single racial group accounts for more than 80% of the regional population?

    More "scientists" that stole grant money....

    October 6, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  16. Crimson Wife

    I would like to know whether the researchers found that segregation varied by denomination and/or faith. I've noticed this to be very true. Mainline Protestant churches, Jewish synagogues, and LDS temples I've visited as guests are nearly 100% white. On the other hand, there seems to be more diversity at Evangelical Protestant churches I've visited and Roman Catholic churches at which I've worshiped. My brother (who is Unitarian) actually commented on our parish's diversity when he attended my daughter's First Communion.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  17. mike

    I'm guessing the reason is that church is the last place left where you don't have people shoving diversity down your throat. Blacks don't want to hang out with me. I grew up in a place that didn't have black people, but after I got older and moved out east, I found that's the way it was. I've grown to respect their wishes, and would just assume not hang out with them either. We don't think of each other as lesser human beings, they are still my brothers and sisters under Gawd, still fellow Americans, we just don't want to hang out together. I don't see why that's such a terrible thing, honestly.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  18. Uche

    Love this The FIRST church was diverse,.. Yup your study points to the right place The Catholic Church is still overly diverse till today. The Catholic Church the one True Church, Gods plan for us never changed,.. Its been the same from the begining of the first church till today,.. Yea some corrupt popes came along, but that never changed the message. I Love Being Catholic One Church undivided unchanged for over 2000 years,.. God is good

    October 6, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • Billy

      Psst....the "first" church? You DO realize that Catholicism was spawned FROM Christianity....that's why it's called a "denomination."

      There are tons of organized religions that predate catholicism you ignorant simpleton.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:59 am |
    • Uche

      You are so dumb! the idea of catholicism started when Jesus ascended into heaven.....The same things they did then we still do now. Christianity started after christ,.. n just for the Record Ctholicism is not a denomination The meaning of catholicism is Universal,.. That means all over the world,... Show me one church thats uniform irrespective of race, country or continent,.. then you can come to the arguing table,... Till then i suggest you go read the writtings of the people that lived immediately after the apostles died,.. people like ignatius and cornelius,.. and see watch church today exists like the things they wrote about

      October 6, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • Phil

      You just said "True Church", thus creating that divide between Catholicism and Protestantism right off the bat.. so by doing so you have deviated from "inclusiveness" to "exclusiveness" based upon a concept of your views of continuity.. in short, you contradicted yourself..

      October 6, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  19. TJ

    I don't think its racism. I think the reason has to do with the many different worship styles. People of different ethnic backgrounds worship many different ways with different styles of worship music. This is a big reason churches seem segregated.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  20. cpg35223

    Well, it's pretty obvious. And it has nothing to do with racism.

    Instead, I would argue that it has a lot more to do with the various cultural expressions of faith. Hey, in my little Episcopal church, we have a formal liturgy and a choir that sings the works of Bach and other towering figures of Christian music. We have a few black congregants, and we make a special effort to make them feel welcome and included. At the same time, having visited my fair share of black churches for weddings and funerals, I know that, broadly speaking, the nature of worship in the black churches I have visited are decidedly different. For example, in the black church services I have attended, the congregants will urge on the preacher during a sermon. Do that in my more formal church, and you would be asked to leave.

    Not saying one is better than the other. I'm just saying they're different.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:49 am |
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