I was recently reading the 2016/2017 articles by the Pew Research Center (PRC) titled 10 demographic trends that are shaping the US and the world. I was reminded that much of the racial/cultural/political/ecclesiastical tension we are experiencing in the US right now is due to the growing shift in demographics.
According to a projection by the PRC, “by 2055 the U.S will not have a single racial or ethnic majority.” Translation: for the first time in American history the US will not be led by a predominantly white majority.
This does not mean America will stop being a largely white society overnight. Our legal system, accepted ways of doing business, education, and church ethos will tacitly remain—good or bad—white centered (at least for a while longer). This is so because we tragically excluded so many ethnicities from foundational conversations when deciding how America would operate on a legal, political, capitalistic, and even ecclesiastical playing field.
Herein lies the tension both for the American people and for the ones who make up God’s Church. Demographic changes are shifting the American way of life on a monumental level away from the implicitly accepted white majority culture. Confronting our majority cultures ethos is an ever growing multi-cultural/multi-ethnic populous whose lens (i.e. their lived experiences) is much different—though no less American—than the majority experience. It is causing a deconstruction in the hearts and minds of Americans on what exactly being “American” means (at least that’s how the majority culture feels it). The representation in the American room that gives voice to who we are as a nation is no longer a mostly homogenous group with large power variance. The deconstructing, then, should not be seen as a ‘redefining’ of the word “American” but more appropriately as a process of discovering of who we truly are meant to be.
As positive as that may sound for the future, right now the affects of the cultural changes resulting from our country's demographic shifts are not to be understated. It is causing incredible tension in the U.S. in 2017 (think #BlackLivesMatter vs #AllLivesMatter, Build a Wall vs Unclenched Fist, Trump Presidency vs. Obama Presidency, Heterosexual vs. Same-Sex marriage, Keep the Confederate Monuments or Not?). The traditional ways of living, being, and doing life as an American and as an American Christian are forcefully being fine-tuned. To give appropriate language to the fine-tuning; America will soon have multiple ethnicities conversing at the dining table—together as equals—rather than one ethnicity being served higher status (and a louder voice) due to an ethnically-stratified society. In short, there is cultural tension in the U.S. the likes of which we have not felt in America probably since the Civil Rights era. This tension exists because a dominant culture is losing power, whilst minorities are gaining powerful (and much needed) momentum.
The demographic shifts in America are causing incredible tension for Kingdom traction. In the midst of what feels like constant chaos and change for some stands the unchanging truth of God’s Word for the many. It is the rock and foundation of the Church and when read correctly teaches all people how to live in a multi-ethnic Nation. In fact, God's Word encourages us to participate with him to build a multi-ethnic Kingdom that converges together en-masse as one nation—A Nation of Nations. Jesus’ final words during His physical ministry on earth were a call to embrace the nations. He said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
I love this. We are called to give witness to who Jesus is without bias or prejudice. Unfortunately, many Christians who make up the American Church often think of these words as permission to ‘other’ someone else who may need Jesus (i.e. the orphan in Kenya, the widowed in Haiti, the family in the trailer park, etc.). This is a perfect example of majority rule mentality and it will not stand in the coming America. Quickly recall the demographic shifts that are happening in America and you can’t help but conclude that the ‘other’ is not over there somewhere but right next door—or as in my case literally in my house.
What does this mean for the church? Given the words and example of Jesus found in the Scriptures, that we witness Jesus’ loving embrace of multi-ethnic diverse people groups (i.e. the half Jew/Gentile woman, the Roman Centurion, the leper, etc) THEN we must embrace as He embraces. He embraces diverse peoples that He may reveal Himself as God to them. His loving embrace precedes His Gospel proclamation. We do well to take note of this.
Jesus wants us to embrace the nations in our midst in order that we may proclaim the unchanging Gospel to them. As we've witnessed from our demographic trends, the “them” is quickly becoming an “us” in the United States. This makes me optimistically ponder, "If the American church handles the demographic shifts appropriately over the next 40 years could we witness a Kingdom Revival the likes of which we have never seen?"
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
1. How should churches prepare for the 2055 America?
2. When staffing a church should churches consider a candidates multi-ethnic preparedness?
3. Do homogenous churches have a responsibility to prepare for a multi-ethnic world?
4. What is the connection between Demographic Trends in the U.S. and the increasing conversations about racial justice?
***we'll tackle some of these in our next blog