South Carolina Pastor, Derwin Gray, Says Future Belongs to Multiethnic Churches; African American, Asian American, Latino Millennials Leading the Way

Derwin Gray, Lead Pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina
Derwin Gray, Lead Pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina

Almost everyday, it seems, there’s a new story about how “Millennials are leaving the church.” But there’s a problem with these trend pieces: They aren’t true. American Christianity still has plenty of Millennials — they’re just not necessarily in white churches.

Instead, they’re found in places like Iglesia de Dios, a 3,000-member Hispanic megachurch in Nashville. The church was started in the mid-1990s by the Rev. Jose Rodriguez, a native of Venezuala who moved to Nashville in order to get better medical care for one of his children.

The early services drew a handful of people. But fueled by immigration, word of mouth, and a “come as you are” approach to worship, it’s grown slowly and steadily into a megachurch. Today Iglesia de Dios has six services on the weekends, including one in English, for second-generation immigrants and some of their English-speaking neighbors.

“Our church here — we are very young,” says 27-year old Josué Rodriguez, the church’s associate pastor. “There are very few elderly people. And our youth services are the biggest services we have.”

White Christians make up only a quarter of younger Americans. There are more Nones — those with no religion — than white Christians in this age group.

Transformation Church, a multiethnic congregation in Indian Land, South Carolina, has also grown by attracting young Millennials to worship. Started four years ago by the Rev. Derwin Gray, Transformation Church now draws about 2,500 people to its weekend services.

“What I see among Millennials are African Americans, and Asians Americans, and Latinos who are vibrantly growing in faith and leading the future of what the church will become,” says Gray.

About a third of young (18-29 year old) Americans — and more than half of younger Christians — are people of color, according to data from the Public Religion Research Institute. White Christians, on the other hand, make up only a quarter of younger Americans. In fact there are more Nones — those with no religion — than white Christians in this age group.

That’s a remarkable demographic change from older Americans, where nearly 7 in 10 are White Christians, according to PRRI. “What you have in American religion today are the nonwhite Christians and the Nones,” says Mark Silk, professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

But the switch from most Christians being white to the majority being non-white has largely gone unnoticed. Instead, most of the focus has been on the idea that “young people are leaving the church.” That idea is true among white evangelicals, who show a dramatic decline in PRRI’s polling. Among Americans 65 and older, nearly 3 in 10 (29 percent) are evangelicals. That number drops to 1 in 10 for younger Americans.

The future, says Gray, will belong to churches that are multiethnic, because that’s what God wants.

Gray says that in the past, white Christians were in the majority, so they assumed what happened in their churches was happening in every church. So if the number of young people in their churches is going down, he says, they assumed it was a universal problem.

Gray explains that since the 1980s, white megachurches in particular grew using a technique known as the “homogeneous unit principle” — the idea that the best way to grow a church is to cater to one specific racial or social group. That’s left them cut off from other ethnic groups and unable to see the bigger picture of what’s happening in the demographics of American Christianity, says Gray.

“One of the dangers of being the majority culture is that you become complacent and you don’t listen,” says Gray. “You think your problems are everyone else’s problem.”

The future, says Gray, will belong to churches that are multiethnic, because that’s what God wants. He points to a section of the book of Revelation to make his point: “After this I looked,” says Revelation 7:9, “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.”

“The reason that we should have multiethnic churches is not that the demographics of America is changing — but because it is at the heart of the gospel,” he says.

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SOURCE: Faith Street
Bob Smietana

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