There’s been a high-profile effort in the last couple of years to make the membership of UU congregations “more diverse”. Here’s an interesting master’s thesis that looks at the sociology of religious congregation demographics and “multi-racial” membership. Others Like Me: What Constitutes a “Uniracial” Congregation and How do they Affect Attitude and Action? (Jared Maier, Baylor Univ.)
Of particular interest, to me, were the table on p. 22 and the analysis on p. 25, looking at “uni-racial” congregations as a function of many variables, including congregation size.
A congregation with less than 100 in regular attendance (this is around the average UU size) is three times more likely to be uniracial than one with over 300 weekly worshipers. Since our average congregation size is around 100, that should give us pause as we consider the push towards diversity. There is a big difference between being the only “outsider” among 40 people and among 400.
There are a lot of cultural factors that may be involved (read the thesis for an overview), but I think it comes down to “do I feel comfortable here?”
What makes people feel comfortable? Seeing others with whom they identify. Feeling like they’re being spoken to directly. Engaging in activities that seem meaningful and welcoming. Hearing music that conveys depth, comfort and joy. That’s my list, anyway.
Some encouraging observations: The more education members have, the more likely it is that the congregation is multi-racial. That fits well with our demographics. Likewise, the higher the average income, the more likely a congregation is to be integrated. That fits us, too. (pp. 21-23)
On the downside, we qualify as “Mainline Protestants” in most schemes, which puts us in the lowest group for integration. The source of that situation is thought to be the traditionalism of those denominations. Most integrated are Catholics and Evangelicals. Who’s growing the most? Evangelicals, the non-denominational non-traditionalists.
And, of course, this blog’s main focus is examining our traditions and advocating to revise the ones that have no purpose (other than making long-time members comfortable with familiarity).
Just saying “we’re open to everyone” isn’t going to make it happen. We have to start acting open to everyone, and that means examining the basically invisible (to us) cultural environment we worship in.
So, I’d say we as UUs have some strengths and some weaknesses, demographically, if we’re looking to change our congregations to reflect the communities they’re in. But it’s clear that the more tradition-bound a congregation is, the more likely it is to be uniracial. If we think 17th-century German organ tunes are perfectly suited to worship, and James Brown is perfectly unsuited, we will get exactly the membership we’re advertising for.