Nearly a half century after Martin Luther King Jr. called 11 a.m. on Sunday morning the most segregated hour in America, two Florida churches with different racial compositions – one with a predominantly black congregation, the other predominantly white – are set to merge.
Indeed, while about eight-in-ten American congregants still attend services at a place where a single racial or ethnic group comprises at least 80% of the congregation, one-in-five now worship in congregations where no single racial or ethnic group predominates in such a way. This figure has risen in recent years, from 15% in the 1998 NCS and 17% in the 2006-07 NCS.
In addition, the share of white Americans who attend services with no one of another other race or ethnicity is dropping. In 1998, 20% of U.S. congregants were part of congregations that were entirely white. By 2012, that percentage had fallen to 11%, while increasing shares of whites are in congregations with at least some blacks, Hispanics or Asians.
That same dynamic is at work among some other groups. For example, a 2013 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Hispanics found that 61% of Hispanic churchgoers say their place of worship has a mostly Hispanic congregation – down from 74% who said the same in 2006.
A majority (57%) of congregants overall are part of congregations that are predominantly (at least 80%) non-Hispanic white. Additionally, 14% of Americans who attend services do so at houses of worship with membership that is at least 80% black (including 5% who are in congregations that are entirely black). And another 8% attend churches where at least eight-in-ten churchgoers are Hispanic.
While financial reasons are playing a role in the Florida church merger, the pastors involved say they also are aiming to promote racial reconciliation in the Jacksonville area and beyond.