Feb 9, 2022

Most Christians Assume Diverse Community Will Improve Race Relations

What can one person do to help address racial injustice in America?

Beyond Diversity, a recent Barna study created in partnership with the Racial Justice and Unity center, covers key trends in Americans’ fluctuating motivation to pursue racial justice. With insights from experts, the report highlights ways congregations can grow in this area—and urges that statistical diversity is not the end goal.

Still, according to the research, there is currently a widely held belief that cross-racial interactions and friendships, inside and outside the Church, are a first step.

Beyond Diversity

What the future of racial justice will require of U.S. churches

7 in 10 Americans Think Diverse Friendships Will Improve Racial Dynamics in the U.S.
From a list of possible steps individuals could take to improve racial dynamics in the country, building diverse relationships is the most popular response (67% all U.S. adults, 70% practicing Christians). This option clearly outpaces others as the top choice, regardless of age, race or faith. The nature of this solution matches Americans’ perceptions of the nature of the problem: according to most people in the U.S., it’s personal, not systemic. But while relationships are an important component of developing empathy and understanding, the Beyond Diversity research shows it’s potentially counterproductive if it’s the only step.

A broader take on the role of individuals includes efforts to undo unjust systems, perhaps through advocacy, influencing policies or actively seeking a better understanding of race dynamics. On these priorities, differences begin to emerge in the data. In the general population, the second and third most frequently chosen actions are to support the economic thriving of people of color (38%) and to advocate for people of color in leadership positions (33%), a trend that holds across race. In contrast, beyond building diverse relationships, practicing Christians’ approach tends toward the evangelistic; half say helping people become Christians is an effective personal means to improve race relations (47%). This approach is especially favored by white practicing Christians (51%, compared to 40% Black, 36% Hispanic and 41% Asian).

One-third of practicing Christians (34%) emphasizes sharing biblical teachings that encourage special kindness to marginalized groups, a tactic they support as strongly as fostering economic thriving for people of color (34%). Practicing Christians also chose advocacy for leadership opportunities for people of color (26%), though notably less frequently than the general population.

Within the Church, strategies for improving racial dynamics strongly differ by race, after the top response of forming cross-cultural friendships. Where white practicing Christians want to lean on faith-sharing, Black practicing Christians want to address minorities’ needs for greater economic and leadership opportunity. Overall, all minorities outpace white practicing Christians in their desire to spread a biblical understanding of caring for the vulnerable and marginalized.

Few Practicing Christians Say the Church Cannot Play a Role in Improving Race Relations
One of the most important positive findings from Beyond Diversity is this: People widely want the Church to take a place of leadership on these critical topics! Again, building diverse community surfaces as a perceived solution: Practicing Christians believe churches can help improve race relations by welcoming people of all races in their congregations (80%). This remains the top option regardless of respondents’ racial category and mirrors the hope of improving racial dynamics on an individual level by cultivating more diverse personal circles.

There is a small minority of practicing Christians (8%) who believe churches cannot or should not help improve race relations in the country. Among them, there is a prevailing sentiment that this is “not the Church’s job” (46%); these might be churchgoers who would rather look to other institutions or are unaware of biblical instruction on justice issues. A quarter of this outlying group (26%) posits “racism isn’t really an issue.” Another one in five (18%), though they may see value in addressing injustice, states that the Church does not have the right training.

Other smaller proportions have an actual aversion to the Church’s involvement in this area because they feel churches are hypocritical (5%) or the source of the problem to begin with (7%). These may be Christians who bear stories like some of those we heard in focus groups; they have experienced or witnessed racism in the Church firsthand and now find themselves hurting, healing or even leaving the Church.

“We want to invite every Christian into the blessed community that is the Church, and we want to ensure each member can bring and manifest the unique gifts God gave them,” Dr. Glenn Bracey, one of the principal investigators and authors for the Beyond Diversity project, writes. “To realize God’s glorious vision, we have to first examine where we fall short of it.”

Further reading and resources:

Beyond Diversity

What the future of racial justice will require of U.S. churches

About the Research

About the Research
This multi-faceted research study involved multiple phases of data collection in 2019 and 2020.

Qualitative research: Focus group interviews were conducted with 200 individuals from 20 churches and five cities. Group types covered men and women and multiple races, with the goal of examining the extensive diversity of peoples. Additional leader interviews were conducted with 67 leaders and experts and 68 church staff members from three churches.

Quantitative research: This study of 2,889 U.S. adults was conducted online between July 19 and August 5, 2019, via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled practicing Christians and Black, Asian and Hispanic adults. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.9 points at a 95 percent confidence interval.

In 2020, Barna (in partnership with Dynata) repeated some questions in a survey of 1,525 U.S. adults conducted online between June 18 and July 6, 2020, via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled Black, Asian and Hispanic adults. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 points at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month. 

Photo by Brock DuPont on Unsplash

© Barna Group, 2022.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

Barna Access Plus

Lead with Insight

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

Get Barna in your inbox

Subscribe to Barna’s free newsletters for the latest data and insights to navigate today’s most complex issues.