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2010 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches
examines the impact of the New Immigrant Church

See also: 2010 yearbook reports
latest membership trends

New York, February 12, 2010 -- Forty-five years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the profound impact of the "new immigration" on the religious landscape of the United States is still being measured.

A substantial number of immigrants since 1965 -- perhaps a majority -- have been Christians. Their influx into the United States and Canada, writes the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, "has altered not only the demographic composition of Christianity in America but ... has expanded the variety of expressions of the faith itself."

Writing in the National Council of Churches' 2010 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, which she edits, Lindner suggests that the increasing religious pluralism resulting from new immigration patterns may alter the views of the faith community on a variety of public issues.

"With the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of the immigrant communities more diverse and nuanced views of matters ranging from abortion to aid and trade policy as well as immigration policy may find voice as these churches enter into civic engagement in their new culture," Linder writes. "As they do, a new fault line in Christian theology and practice may open within the American religious landscape."

The Yearbook, a highly regarded chronicler of growth and financial trends of religious institutions, reports on 227 national church bodies, including their membership and financial trends, and includes a directory  of 234 U.S. local and regional ecumenical bodies with program and contact information and provides listings of theological seminaries and bible schools, religious periodicals and guides to religious research including church archive listings.

Each year the Yearbook provides a snap shot of the religious topology in the U.S. and Canada, through charts and essays by Lindner, including her examination of "The New Immigrant Church."

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Lindner points out, shifted the ethnic balance of immigrants from Western Europe to Eastern Europe and Asia.

"In an era in which we have come to expect the inevitable advance of secularism in the U.S., the influx of robust Christian communities among new immigrants once again amends the topographical map of the religious landscape," she writes.

Lindner's conclusions:

1. The potential changes to the American religious landscape occasioned by the in-migration of new immigrant churches over the last forty years has been obscured by greater emphasis to increasing religious pluralism and will require closer attention of both secular and church related scholars. 

2. Several ethnographic studies have provided deep and rich information about the religious practices and social organization of particular congregations. Institutional and organizational quantitative studies that analyze large samples of immigrant churches with measures of member characteristics, organizational structure, religious practices and institutional resources. While ethnographic studies offer more detailed insight, large quantitative studies will yield greater generalizability. 

3. Future research might well undertake an examination of the forms of assimilation—both forced and voluntary—that immigrant churches undergo in the North American context. Cultural exchange is a two-way street and researchers need to be attentive to the ways in which some of the religious beliefs and practices of immigrant churches may be adopted by longstanding religious groups. 

4. In late 2010, a long delayed national public policy debate is expected related to immigration reform. In anticipation of that debate various national denominations and religious coalitions have begun to signal their respective stances regarding the direction and scope of such reform. Longstanding religious organizations in America approach the immigrant churches and immigrant communities with a multifaceted agenda. It is likely that this issue may provide an occasion for a realignment of religious bodies as each seeks to exercise moral authority. Catholics and mainline Protestants have long been advocates of less restrictive immigration law. More recently the evangelical community has demonstrated a less monolithic perspective on the question of immigration policy.


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell) , pjenks@ncccusa.org

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