“Minority white” by 2045: What does this mean for U.S. church ministry?

In a little over 25 years, the majority face of America will be a different color.

According to a research report by the Brookings Institute, the United States will be “minority white” by 2045, when America’s white population will dip below 50 percent for the first time. White population numbers as a percentage of the total population will continue to decline for decades afterward. In other words, America has a decidedly diverse future.

No Majority Ethnicity

In the report, William Frey notes that this trend is the result of two major factors: negative population growth among whites and a surge in population among current minority groups. Frey writes, “Already in 2018, there will be more white seniors than children and more white deaths than births according to census projections.” As white populations continue to age and have less children, other ethnic groups continue to grow. Together, these factors will lead to a ethnic plurality in the United States where no one group is the majority. The Brookings report calls racial minorities, “the primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth.”

The highest gains will occur among the multiracial category, Hispanics, and Asian peoples. Population growth in these groups will be a combination of birth rates (more births than deaths) and immigration. Frey notes that one third of Hispanic growth will continue to come from immigration while a significant 75 percent of Asian growth will be immigration.

A Young, Diverse Future

Of course, the slow decline of white population because of aging and the sharp growth of other ethnic populations through births and immigration means the younger generations are already increasingly diverse. Moving forward, Frey writes, “Minorities will be the source of all of the growth in the nation’s youth and working age population, most of the growth in its voters, and much of the growth in its consumers and tax base as far into the future as we can see.” This young, multiethnic population growth will be so pronounced that it will keep the United States from an overall population decline moving forward, with America hitting the 400 million milestone by 2051.

Trends for Missions

As with any news concerning population shifts, those of us called to steward the transmission of the gospel should take note. Local churches across the United States are commissioned by Christ to their neighborhoods and the nations, and obedience requires understanding those to whom we are called.

The Rise of the Multiracial Category

One of the more significant pieces of information is this study dealt with the rise of the multiracial category. The fastest ethnic growth in the United States over the coming decades will not be one particular ethnic group. Instead, it will be those who consider themselves multiracial, or have a background from multiple racial categories. This multiracial increase, along with second and third generation immigrants, is an important point for local church missions. When it comes to ethnicity and culture, discussions of hybridity are more and more common. This concept of blended cultural and ethnic categories is significant when we realize this is the fastest growing population segment.

It is no secret that most churches in our traditional evangelical denominations (and even many who claim nondenominational status) are aging white churches. With each passing year, the paradigm becomes more clear: we have thousands of older, white churches whose mission is to somehow engage an increasingly young, diverse community. The rise of multiracial and blended ethnic categories requires a focus on diverse leadership development. We need to be encouraging young men and women who are multiracial or from diverse ethnic backgrounds toward leading roles in local churches. And then, we need to provide those pathways.

Of course, this does not mean we discourage white young men and women from leadership development, but it does mean we see the importance of having leadership from these growing groups who intuitively understand missions and ministry in a slightly different cultural context. Many within the growing blended and multiracial category have a unique social experience. Some feel they belong fully to two different cultural categories, while others feel they belong to neither. Regardless, hybridity is increasingly the new normal in American communities. The church in America needs diverse leadership to lead it into a diverse future.

But, Multiethnic Churches Alone are Insufficient

While the rapid growth of blended cultural categories and people who classify themselves as culturally hybrid requires a focus on multiethnic churches with multiethnic leaders, the complexity of American diversity requires even more than this. Simply saying every church should somehow become multiethnic does not consider just how diverse the United States is becoming. The danger of using multiethnic churches as a single strategy solution (the missions silver bullet) is missing the large portions of our cities for which this cannot provide a comprehensible proclamation of the gospel. We may falsely assume we have churches for everyone and miss hidden groups that still need the gospel. In short, gospel saturation in today’s America requires a myriad of cultural manifestations of the gospel, not simply culturally hybrid expressions.

For instance, Frey notes in the report that three quarters of Asian population growth is foreign born growth through immigration. Many of these people will require an indigenous approach to church planting. In fact, immigration has created some of the largest ethnic enclaves in the world here in America. These enclaves allow for the continuation of language, culture, customs, worldview, and religion. In order to reach these groups, a contextualized approach may require a specific language focus. Furthermore, many of these foreign born immigrants are coming here as Christians. These groups are actively planting churches in an array of cultures and languages that reflect those from home. These churches should be celebrated and seen as partners in reaching an increasingly diverse mission field.

Even though hybridity is growing, the multiracial category will not be the largest category in the coming decades. Many more people will still exist within a particular ethnic and cultural identity. Truly caring for people from radically different cultures means giving them the opportunity to experience and worship the gospel in their own language and cultural manifestation.

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