Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
College of Education and International Services
Erich W. Baumgartner
There is a growing phenomenon in the United States of America: multiracial churches. While earlier research indicates that church growth typically happens in more homogenous congregations, more and more churches are growing that are multiracial. This case study focused on the growth of Buffalo Suburban Seventh-day Adventist Church (BSSDAC), a multiracial church in Lancaster, New York. Data collection was done through focus groups of church leaders and members, and a review of any available church and membership records.
BSSDAC started as a White congregation in Buffalo in 1885 and moved to the suburbs in the 1980s where the initial transition toward diversity began. After 2000, as Buffalo neighborhoods assimilated refugees, church leaders intentionally opened its doors for the membership to become racially diverse. The church grew from 300 members in 2007 to 575 in 2019 (an average annual growth rate of 7.64% comprised of 222 White, 154 Black/African American, 128 Asian, 9 Two or More Races, 32 Other, and 30 Hispanic).
This study identified several elements that contributed to the growth of BSSDAC as a multiracial congregation from the perspective of church leaders and members: First, BSSDAC became a multiracial church in response to shifting demographics paired with intentional multifaceted adaptation that created the potential for growth. Second, pastors intentionally created an inclusive multiracial environment by recruiting members from different backgrounds into the lay leadership and ministry teams. This diversity in lay leadership influenced the ability of BSSDAC to embrace racial diversity. Third, the worship experience incorporated diversity in language and music, contributing to a climate that fostered participation by racially diverse individuals. Fourth, BSSDAC invested resources in meeting physical needs of racially diverse people and facilitating their attendance at BSSDAC by providing transportation. Fifth, the intentionally welcoming environment drew members from different backgrounds into church activities and ministries, which contributed to a climate favoring the building of relationships among racially diverse individuals. Sixth, a visible and accessible location made it easier for people residing in communities with greater diversity in nearby Buffalo City to reach BSSDAC. Seventh, a deliberate acceptance of diversity and a willingness to adapt to differences along with an intentional position of non-tolerance for racial discrimination created an accepting environment where openness to change and adapting to differences contributed to the growth. Eighth, the success of BSSDAC while remarkable cannot be taken for granted in the continuing and often complex challenges of inequality and prejudice in our communities. It is only as BSSDAC continues to learn to be an intentionally inclusive community that it will continue to grow among multiracial realities.
Church growth--Seventh-day Adventists; Multiculturalism--Religious aspects--Seventh-day Adventists; Buffalo Suburban Seventh-day Adventist Church (Lancaster, N.Y.)
Mancebo, Luis A., "Exploring the Influence of Racial Diversity on Church Growth: A Case Study of Buffalo Suburban Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lancaster, New York" (2020). Dissertations. 1747.
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