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Aug 29, 2012 | Carol E. Barnwell, Luke Blount

Changing Demographics Offer New Opportunities

[Diolog Magazine] This spring Houston passed a milestone: the city no longer has any one group who is an ethnic majority. According to Stephen Klineberg, co-director of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, “Houston is where America will be by 2040.” But where will the Church be in terms of diversity in the future?


Indeed, Texas grew by 20 percent between 2000 and 2010, while average Sunday attendance in Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Texas dropped by more than 3,000 people. 


While not all four million new people moved into the Diocese of Texas, a deeper look into the changes can help the Church better understand how and where it can grow.


Klineberg and his graduate students have surveyed a random group of people annually for the last 30+ years in Houston and the surrounding area. Although the statistics represent only a small geographic portion of the Diocese of Texas, they are similar throughout East and Central Texas.


According to the 2010 U.S. Census, people identifying as Hispanic or Latino account for the biggest population increases in Texas. The Houston metro area alone saw an influx of almost 750,000 Hispanic people in just 10 years.  Similarly, in Waco, the overall population increased from 213,000 to 234,000, almost entirely accounted for by Hispanics. 


The metro areas of Austin, College Station, Killeen, Tyler, and Texarkana all saw increases of their Hispanic population by at least 53 percent. Tyler’s Hispanic population grew by 85 percent, though still that accounts for only 17 percent of Tyler’s population. In Beaumont, the population remained virtually unchanged in number. But the area lost 18,000 non-Hispanic white people and gained 20,000 Hispanic people.  


In many cities, the Hispanic population isn’t the fastest growing in terms of percentage. Houston’s Asian population rose 70 percent from 228,000 to 387,000. Other cities saw 50–60 percent increases in the multiracial population. 


All the growth during the last quarter century has come from immigration, Klineberg said in his explanation of the most recent survey. Of the population over 60 years of age, 70 percent are Anglo. Those younger than 30 are 75 percent non-Anglo. One-third of the Texas population five years and older speaks a language other than English at home.


Twenty five percent of households are singles. The fastest growing groups are empty nesters and young professionals with no children. One-third of all households have children. The trend to move to more urban areas where shops and restaurants are within walking distance is growing, while the number of people who aspire to move to the suburbs is decreasing. This doesn’t spell the demise of the suburbs, but it does give one pause. 


Access to Education Is Key

In the previous half century, our wealth came from natural resources. The East Texas oil fields attracted people who were mostly Anglo. After the oil bust of 1982, there was no Anglo growth.  Today, there is a more even distribution of ethnicities among the four “great communities” in Harris County. “Just striking!” Klineberg said, “It is where all of America will be in 25–30 years.”


The gap between rich and poor is accelerating across America, and one’s ability to make a good living is predicated on access to higher education. Investment in education is key for the future. “How Houston navigates the transition to build a successful, inclusive, multiethnic society will have enormous implications not just for Houston’s future, but for the American future. This is where America’s future is going to be worked out,” Klineberg contended. 


This diversity, Klineberg said, can be the source of great strength for the whole culture. We remain a very religious community: 35 percent are fundamentalists in terms of their interpretation of the Bible, 10 percent are secularists, and there is a drop in the number of Protestants along with a small increase in the number of Roman Catholics. The number of those who are Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu has tripled. 


Klineberg believes that acceptance and appreciation of other religions and ethnicities is inevitable, although “a lot of people are uncomfortable.” Historically, Americans have thought that the last group of immigrants was great, and that the current group is detrimental, whether that was the Chinese at the turn of the twentieth century, or later the Irish, Italians, etc.


Changes Present Challenges

Klineberg’s surveys have identified three major challenges for Texans: education, quality of life and building a truly successful, inclusive, multiethnic society.    “That’s the agenda for the twenty-first century,” he concludes. 


Sunday morning worship is still a segregated time in church and while many seek out worship in their own languag—Spanish or Vietnamese, for example—most congregations just seem to reflect the neighborhoods in which they are located. The difference today is that those neighborhoods are changing and becoming more multi-ethnic. Our challenge is to be intentional, to live lives of radical welcome, both to our neighbors and to visitors in our churches. This may be easier for a younger generation who have grown up connected to the whole world. For the rest of us, God has laid a wealth of discovery at our door and asks us to embrace it. 


How will the Episcopal Church respond to these challenges in the future and help prepare upcoming generations? How do we incorporate a changing ethnic community into our Sunday mornings? How do we design our outreach to fill in the gaps, to lift up the vulnerable? Some churches may find they need more bike racks and fewer parking spaces. Some are in the perfect place to offer English classes or college prep tutoring. Each congregation has a slightly different context and these questions can only be answered by examining the community around you. But to do so will guarantee a place for the Church in the future of the community. It will mean that your community is a better place because the Episcopal Church is there. 


Training Available

The Diocese of Texas offers The Fertile Ground Project training developed by the Rev. Eric Law and the Kaleidoscope Institute to help church communities respond faithfully to the call to be inclusive of all cultures and people. Workshops can be designed to meet specific needs and range from several hours to a full day. They are offered without charge to any church or organization within the diocese. Contact Denise Trevino, missioner for intercultural development at or call her at: 512.478.0580. See article on page 14.


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