This New York Times article, The World Comes to Georgia, and an Old Church Adapts, is yet another indicator of how the church must change or die:
When the Rev. Phil Kitchin steps into the pulpit of the Clarkston International Bible Church on Sunday mornings, he stands eye to eye with the changing face of America. In the pews before him, alongside white-haired Southern women in their Sunday best, sit immigrants from the Philippines and Togo, refugees from war-scarred Liberia, Ethiopia and Sudan, even a convert from Afghanistan.
“Jesus said heaven is a place for people of all nations,” Mr. Kitchin likes to say. “So if you don’t like Clarkston, you won’t like heaven.”
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once noted that 11 a.m. on Sunday was the beginning of the most segregated hour of the week in America, and for the better part of 120 years, that certainly applied to this church. From 1883 until a few years ago, anyone on the pulpit would have gazed out at a congregation that was exclusively white. The church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, a group that in 1995 renounced its racist past.
But an influx of immigrants and refugees transformed this town in a little over a decade, and in the process sparked a battle within this church over its identity and its faithfulness to the Bible, one that led it to change not just its name but its mission.
Indeed, evangelical churches have begun to stand out as rare centers of ethnic mixing in a country that researchers say has become more culturally fragmented, in part because of immigration.
A recent study by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam underscored the practical complications of diversity. In interviews with 30,000 Americans, the study found that residents of more diverse communities “tend to withdraw from collective life,” voting less and volunteering less than those in more homogeneous communities.
The study noted a conspicuous exception.
“In many large evangelical congregations,” the researchers wrote, “the participants constituted the largest thoroughly integrated gatherings we have ever witnessed.”
How is your church changing to serve the changing community around it?
[update 9/26] Be sure to read the behind-the-scene rest-of-the-story at Mark DeYmaz’ blog, and also commentary from Eugene Cho about the article, which includes a schedule for his church’s annual in-depth Race and Faith class.