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The New Desegregation?

Wow, this is quite the story….

Call it the desegregation of the megachurches — and consider it a possible pivotal moment in the nation’s faith. Such rapid change in such big institutions “blows my mind,” says Emerson. Some of the country’s largest churches are involved: the very biggest, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Community Church in Houston (43,500 members), is split evenly among blacks, Hispanics and a category containing whites and Asians. Hybels’ Willow Creek is at 20% minority. Megachurches serve only 7% of American churchgoers, but they are extraordinarily influential: Willow Creek, for instance, networks another 12,000 smaller congregations through its Willow Creek Association. David Campbell, a political scientist at Notre Dame studying the trend, says that “if tens of millions of Americans start sharing faith across racial boundaries, it could be one of the final steps transcending race as our great divider” — and it could help smooth America’s transition into a truly rainbow nation.


Hybels and his Willow Creek church are already headed down that path. Though Willow is not the most advanced example of multiracial church, it makes an excellent window into the new desegregation because of its size, its influence and the ferocious purposefulness with which Hybels has deconstructed his all-white institution. Willow may also be emblematic in that Hybels appears to have stopped short of creating a fully color-blind church. His efforts illustrate both the possibilities and the challenges that smaller churches may face as they attempt to move beyond black and white.

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posted January 6, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Encouraging article.
Speaks well of Hybels and Bibbs, and it points to the need of making a concentrated effort to reach such goals.

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Your Name

posted January 6, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I wonder what concrete steps these churches are taking to make this change?

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posted January 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Your Name #2-
From the article:
“I (Hybels) hadn’t [preached] about it in 24 years.” So he promised his congregation, “I’m not going to overwhelm you.” Yet he persisted, sermonizing repeatedly about America’s racial history and continuing inequities. He pledged to open Willow to every ethnicity. In 2003, he recalls, he threw down the gauntlet, telling his flock that the church’s racial outreach was “part of who we are, and if it can’t be part of who you are, you probably need to find a church that doesn’t talk about this issue”
The article goes on,
“Hybels and Bibbs re-engineered the church to match its preaching. They built “Bridging the Racial Divide” gatherings into Willow’s massive grid of laity-led “small groups.”…There were also larger race-oriented seminars and reconciliation-themed book clubs. Bibbs founded an annual “Justice Journey,” busing Willow staff and black Chicago pastors together to bloodstained civil rights pilgrimage sites. Hybels added black, Hispanic and Asian performers to Willow’s music and worship teams. In 2006, Willow introduced a Spanish-language service for Latinos, who were streaming into the area.”

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posted January 6, 2010 at 3:11 pm

#2, as one serving a predominantly white Evangelical church (I’m African-American), I can tell you the efforts for multiculturalism have to be intentional. Otherwise, it can be a painful experience for those of in the minority and probably frustrating for the majority to be constantly reminded of changes of heart, mind and practice that need to be examined.

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Ed Gentry

posted January 6, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I am no fan of mega-churches – I see them as the Walmart of the kingdom of God. But this is a fantastic story indeed.

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Jeff Doles

posted January 6, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Speaks well of Osteen, too.

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Josh Rowley

posted January 7, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Are megachurches more likely to be located in ethnically diverse urban/suburban areas than are smaller churches?

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posted January 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I agree with Pat that efforts at desegregation have to be intentional. I wonder however if desegregation tends to happen easier in large churches where our differences don’t show up as easliy??

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