The Black/White Church Divide

On Sunday, I worshipped at Agape Christian Church in Five Points. This is a small, Congregational church composed primarily of blacks (primarily in this case is 99% of the parishioners). After encountering numerous stares upon first entering the door, I noticed my awkwardness dissipating almost instantaneously because before I could take a step, a number of people were already shaking my hand and greeting me. Let’s just say this was a very hospitable congregation. It was a typical service to say the least; it was about 2 hours long, with large amounts of singing and praying.

After the service, I found myself wondering why it is so difficult to integrate black and white congregations. I think a fundamental issue is the music. The worship wars are not just between hymns and contemporary music – a church of multiple ethnicities would run into many problems. To find some sort of middle ground would probably just alienate all the different sides. To cater to the blacks in the group would probably lead to some of the whites leaving and vice versa. If it is a mix, then neither group is completely satisfied and they begin to look for other churches. As much as we would like to say the fundamental issue is not music, I would disagree. I think it is a much bigger issue than we make it out to be. Many church-goers today look for good music when they visit churches, particularly good music that fits their tastes. And if a church does not meet that expectation, there will be another church that will. Emerson and Smith write about the effects of the religious marketplace on American churchgoers. This requires churches to focus on a particular demographic to meet the niche in the market and to forget or ignore the other demographics. If churches seek to attract people through their music, then naturally racial divisions will become a part of the churches. It is much more difficult to cater to both blacks’ and whites’ music tastes rather than just one. And therefore, the decisions a church makes in regards to the demographic they will reach automatically discriminates against groups that do not fit that demographic.

So, even though music is a small thing (at least this is where our lip service is paid), in the religious market place of America, it becomes a disproportionately important factor.

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