Editorial: The ‘next Texas’ demands change from churches

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True confession: The headline for this editorial is misleading. The “next Texas” actually is the “now Texas.” To paraphrase the late, great cartoon character Pogo, “We have seen the future, and it is here.”

And it means most Baptist congregations and their denomination must change radically or die.

knox newEditor Marv KnoxThe complexion of the “now Texas” appears in a new report, “States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate, 1974-2060.”  It was prepared by a bipartisan collaboration of think tanks—the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Center for American Progress—and a demographer from the Brookings Institution. It describes one of the most politically neutral surveys conducted in a long time.

“States of Change” explores the implications of demographic trends for national and state politics. However, its data create a sobering demographic and sociological map for Baptists and similar faith groups. The report tracks population changes across the past 40 years and reveals trends for the coming 45 years. 

‘Majority-minority’ populations

Population shifts are under way, with the nation heading toward majority-minority status. “Majority-minority” occurs when the white population no longer is the majority and no single group is the majority.

“The scale of race-ethnic transformation is stunning,” the report observes. “In 1980, the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today, that proportion has fallen to 63 percent, and by 2060, it is projected to be less than 44 percent. 

“Hispanics were 6 percent in 1980, are 17 percent today and should be 29 percent by 2060. Asians/Others were just 2 percent in 1980, are 8 percent today and should be 15 percent by 2060. Blacks, however, should be stable at 12 percent to 13 percent over the time period.”

The increase in the number of states with majority-minority populations “captures the magnitude of these shifts” better than any other factor, the report adds. 

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Majority-minority populations already exist in four states—Texas, California, Hawaii and New Mexico. But by 2060, 22 states are expected to have majority-minority populations. They include seven of the largest states and 11 of the top 15. Those 22 states currently account for about two-thirds of the U.S. population. Ten other states’ populations are expected to be at least 40 percent minority by 2060.

melting pot states257Texas is included in what “States of Change” calls the Melting Pot States. These eight states strongly attracted Hispanics and Asians for at least the past 35 years. And because young people flocked to these states, their populations are both younger and more radically diverse than the nation as a whole. 

The report cites Texas’ “explosive demographic change,” based in part on its consistency as a “migration magnet, attracting both immigrants and domestic migrants.” 

“In 1980, the population of Texas was 66 percent white,” the report notes. “Today, that proportion has fallen to 44 percent, and we predict that it will continue to fall to less than 25 percent by 2060. 

“Hispanics were 21 percent in 1980; have almost doubled since then, increasing to 39 percent today; and will be 55 percent in 2060. Asians/Others were 1 percent in 1980, going up to 6 percent today and 9 percent by 2060. Blacks will remain steady at 11 percent to 12 percent of the population over the same time period.”

By 2060, Texas children will outnumber seniors by 5 percentage points—24 percent under age 18, compared to 19 percent over age 65. Sixty-six percent of Texas children are from minority racial/ethnic groups. That number will climb to 77 percent in 2040 ad 82 percent in 2060.

In addition to racial/ethnic shifts, “States of Change” documents other national demographic trends—mirrored in Texas—that will challenge the church across the coming decades. 

Evolving generational composition

For example, the nation’s generational composition will continue to evolve. The Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) no longer comprise the largest generation. At 24 percent of the population, they trail the Millennials (1981-2000), with 27 percent.

By 2060, of course, the Greatest Generation (born before 1928, currently 1 percent), Silent Generation (1928-45, now 9 percent) and Baby Boomers will be gone.

Additionally, the nation’s children will be “superdiverse.” The Millennials are 44 percent minority, and Post-Millennials (born since 2000) are 49 percent minority. The coming two generations will be 57 percent minority and 64 percent minority.

Simultaneously, the nation will age. In 1980, 27 percent of the population was under 18, and just 11 percent was over age 65. Today, children make up 24 percent of the population, and seniors comprise 15 percent. But by 2060, Americans 65 and older will out-number children, 23 percent to 20 percent.

Changing family structure

Meanwhile, the American family structure will continue to shift. In 1970, 70 percent of adult citizens were married, and 30 percent were single. Today, those percentages are 52 percent married and 48 percent unmarried. The researchers could not make long-range projections for marital status, but “trend data on marital status do indicate continued, albeit slowing, growth in the unmarried population,” their report notes.

Combined, all these trends portend escalating change for Texas Baptists at the congregational and denominational level. If we cannot adapt to—and, better yet, leverage—this change, then many of our churches and perhaps the Baptist General Convention of Texas will die out.

At its root, the keys to change are extending hospitality and blessing new leadership. This is true in congregations and in the convention.

All across Texas, Baptists are worshipping in congregations whose neighborhoods’ demographic composition either has changed, is changing or will change. Ideally, those churches will become multi-ethnic or perhaps transition from one dominant ethnicity, to multi-ethnic, to another ethnicity. Churches should study demographic trends and pay close attention to their neighbors, as well as city planners, business leaders, school officials and others with their fingers on the pulse of their communities. We should start transitioning long before the racial/ethnic balance of the neighborhoods change. 

Recruiting leadership

This begins by making people of all races, ethnicities and classes feel welcome in churches. It’s difficult work, but it’s vital, and it reflects the spirit of Christ. A pivotal element of hospitality is blessing leadership—actually recruiting and installing leaders from minorities well ahead of the situational trends. For example, if church visitors in a transitional neighborhood see lay and clergy leadership from the rising group already in place, they know the congregation loves and cares for them. They can begin to feel welcomed and at home.

Another alternative will be to utilize our church campuses for multiple congregations. The facilities for a predominantly Anglo congregation, for example, can become the home of two or more congregations, all sharing the space. They also can collaborate on community ministries and perhaps worship together occasionally. This arrangement isn’t as ideal as a beautifully merged multi-ethnic congregation, but it is a splendid witness to Christian fellowship and racial harmony. Besides, it expresses stewardship of resources, since together the groups can afford facilities and ministries they could not afford alone.

[To read about a church that is attempting this model, click here and here.] 

The same thing must happen within the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but on a larger scale. For several years, Texas Baptists have sought to elevate minority leadership, at least among state officers. We must do more of that across the convention. We also must redouble our efforts to educate minority students for congregational and denominational leadership. And multiply our efforts to plant more churches that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our state. We may be ahead of other faith groups, but that’s small comfort. 

The destinies of millions of Texas now living and, especially, yet to come rest on how we prepare for the future that already is upon us.

The idea for this editorial originated in a column by Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post, “The ‘next America’ is now.” Samuelson explores the consequences of demographic trends upon national politics. Anyone who appreciates politics and public policy and/or is curious about the changing nature of our state and nation would find it fascinating.

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