The number of black churches in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has surged more than 80 percent in the last decade to 3,400 U.S. congregations. However, the number of African American missionaries remains tiny: Only 27 of the SBC's 4,900 international missionaries are black.
That's about half a percent in a missions-minded denomination where 6.25 percent of churches are African American (totaling about 1 million members), and it isn't likely to change soon, experts say.
The main reason for the disparity is that black organizations just cannot keep up with the financial capacity of white organizations to send missionaries overseas, said David Goatley, executive secretarytreasurer at the African American mission agency Lott Carey.
"[African American] income is about 75 percent compared to our [Anglo American] siblings'—even when we have comparable education and experience," he said. "Our unemployment rate is also nearly twice their rate."
And sending missionaries requires raising support, Rice University sociologist Michael Emerson said. "Whites have 20 times the wealth of African Americans," he said. "So when you go to raise support, it's really hard because there's so much less money going around."
Another factor is most religious organizations still have racial divides, said Goatley. "The prospect of African Americans being part of Christian organizations with sending capacity is small."
"As SBC president, I will let [black] churches know that we desperately need more African Americans on the mission field," Luter told Baptist Press. "I want to challenge pastor[s] to start with young people."