As of 2015, the United States had set one record in immigration, and it may be on pace to break another one.
According to the most recent data from Pew research, the United States is now home to over 43.2 million international immigrants. That is more than any other time in the country’s history. It also makes the United States the largest recipient of immigrants by a wide margin.
However, according to Pew, the US is tracking toward another milestone, one that has not been topped since 1890. This number is called “immigrant share,” and it is the percentage of the US population that is foreign-born. In other words, our total population is looking more and more diverse.
It may be hard to see the distinction between these two numbers (total population and immigrant share), but they make a big difference in terms of culture. The number of immigrants to the United States has been increasing for a while now, but so has the total population of the country. This means that the foreign-born population did not necessarily make up an increasing piece of the pie. However, that has also shifted, and immigration is outpacing domestic population growth.
In 1890, 14.8% of our country was foreign-born. This period marked the first great wave of immigration to the US. Around the turn of the last century, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, our country experienced a massive population and industrialization boom. That is when our first round of great American cities were built. Large amounts of immigration poured in from Europe. This was back when Ellis Island was a thing, and the Statue of Liberty was that symbol that America would not turn away those looking for a better life. At our most foreign-born point (1890), there were 9.2 million immigrants in the US.
However, along the way, sentiments toward immigration shifted, two world wars happened, and people became very nationalistic. This shut the door to much of the immigration that was building the country. In 1965, the Hart-Cellar Act shifted the country’s stance on immigration and once again it began to increase. Since this time (for the most part), the country has seen rising immigration from all over the world.
The number of immigrants since 1965 has quadrupled. Today, foreign-born immigrants make up 13.4% of the US population. We are closing in on that 1890 percentage, and that is a real important thing for the church to realize. It is one thing for the number of immigrants to increase as our domestic population increases. This would result in more immigrants but no real change in the “feel” of our cities. However, as the overall share of immigrants increases compared to the total population, then our cities will become more international feeling.
For a church who is called to spread the gospel in their city, this matters. With the foreign-born share increasing, it will be harder and harder for churches to overlook a growing population segment. It will also be harder and harder for churches to do business as usual.
You can check out the full Pew research article here, and consider how your church will spread the gospel to these growing ethnic populations. How can your church plant a church for them?