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Ethnic Research Network helps churches connect to people groups

Carter Tan, vice president of the Baptist Research Network, presents new statistics regarding ethnicity in the SBC June 10 in Indianapolis. Photo by Lindsey Stumpf

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – The Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia wants to start a church for every people group in the state. 

A representative voicing that desire attended the SBC’s Ethnic Research Network’s June 10 meeting at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.

“Our purpose in this work is not just collecting data for data’s sake but to help churches connect to the people near them,” Vice President Carter Tan told the dozen people gathered in a small room big enough for four round tables.

The Ethnic Research Network, partnering with the SBC’s Diaspora Missions Collective, has a specific focus on locating and identifying immigrants, refugees and international students within people group designators. ERN tells the story of SBC diversity with data, Tan said.

Nearly one-quarter – 22.7 percent – of the SBC’s congregations are ethnic and racially diverse, and Southern Baptists worship in more than 100 languages each Sunday, according to ERN’s research. Six out of 10 church plants are to reach people from non-Anglo heritage.

SBC leaders have noticed the ethnic trend, including the newly elected president of the SBC Executive Committee, Jeff Iorg.

“Ethnic minorities in the SBC are not the objects of mission,” Iorg said. “Rather, they’re a missionary force.”

Even so, ERN President Minh Ha Nguyen said many languages spoken in the United States have no church in their language.

International Mission Board researcher Brent Waldrep spoke of difficulties in data collection.

“Census data [numbers are] low, but a good indicator” of which people groups live in a specific area, Waldrep said. “It will point you in the right direction, down to within a census tract.”

In times past, the Diaspora Missions Collective accepted the information provided by whoever might call it to report local demographic data such as an area that suddenly seems to have a non-Anglo concentration, but now to ensure accuracy they have identified “trusted sources,” Waldrep said.

The newly-developed website baptistresearch.com can help churches drill down into the data to identify where non-Anglos live and congregate. It can even identify with differing symbols and colors the location of Islamic mosques, Buddhist temples, Christian churches and other religious centers.

The Ethnic Fellowship Dashboard reports there are 11,312 non-Anglo churches; 1,419,534 members of those churches; an average of 357,525 non-Anglos in Sunday morning services across the SBC; and 17,471 baptisms recorded in non-Anglo churches over the past year.

The dashboard shows 1,466 non-Anglo congregations in California and 161 in the Pacific Northwest state conventions. The information can be further identified by major ethnicities, such as Asian, and even subgroups, such as Korean.

In California there are 223 Korean congregations, and New York has 20. There are no Korean congregations in Wyoming, North or South Dakota, Nebraska or Kansas, according to the dashboard. Georgia has one more Korean congregation, 67, than does Texas.

“We want to bring people together,” Waldrep said. “The purpose is to help your church identify the number and variety of people groups near you.”

One sliding graphic on the baptistresearch.com website shows the Pacific to Atlantic change in the number of ethnic SBC churches in 1990 and 2022. On another page, the 384 metro areas across the United States show the number of SBC congregations by ethnicity and race. 

The purpose of the Ethnic Research Network gathering was to introduce SBC annual meeting messengers to the network’s core team led by Minh Ha Nguyen, Ph.D., ERN president, and the DMC team led by John Bennett, IMB’s director of diaspora mobilization, and to highlight the possibilities for churches across the nation to most effectively identify and reach people living in their communities.