How to increase church attendance

A recent academic study examined 20,000 United Methodist churches between 1990 and 2010. Most experienced declining attendance from 2000 on.

Except multi-racial churches: on average, their attendance increased. “There’s a rising demand for opportunities to interact in diverse settings,” said [lead author Prof. Kevin] Dougherty [of Baylor University]. And racially diverse churches in predominantly white neighborhoods had the best attendance.

I’m willing to bet this trend holds true for Unitarian Universalism. That would help explain why most UU congregations have been in decline since about 2005. I don’t have access to the full text of the study, so I don’t know the authors’ criteria for determining when a congregation is racially diverse, but I’m guessing we’re looking at 30-35% non-white attendance; there are very few UU congregations with that level of racial diversity.

Assuming your congregation is interested in reversing decline, how can we change our UU congregational cultures to become less white?

Crystal DesVignes is pastor of the United Methodist church “CityWell” in Durham, N.C., a congregation that’s 45% non-white. She points out that you have to embrace an increase in the level of conflict, which can enable people to “come out of our comfort zones” and “be honest and vulnerable with each other.” And then she says you have to be willing to learn: “It’s one thing to say, ‘Come in and be just like us’ [but] it’s another thing to say, ‘Come in and we’re willing and open to be changed by your very presence.’”

Link to the abstract of the study.

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