Personal relationships and prayer preferred over preaching and protests.

Nine out of 10 American pastors say they recently encouraged racial reconciliation. Their favorite method: Breaking bread with someone of another ethnicity.

A new survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors by LifeWay Research examines how they address race beyond the pulpit, as well as whether their congregations demand such sermons.

Almost three-quarters (72%) of pastors have shared a meal with a diverse small group of people (less than 10) in the past month. That includes 44 percent who say they’ve had such a meal in the past week.

The proportion is similar among white pastors, 42 percent of whom say they’ve had a meal in the past week with a diverse group. Such meals are more common among African-American pastors (52%) and pastors of other ethnicities (60%).

The proportion varies by denomination. Pentecostal (50%), Methodist (48%), and Baptist (46%) pastors were more likely to have shared a meal with a diverse group in the past week, while Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (34%) were less likely.

“Most pastors appear to be taking a leadership role in encouraging racial reconciliation,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville-based research organization. “Nine in 10 pastors say they recently have done something to encourage racial reconciliation.

“A majority have been socializing with other races and ethnicities and have led prayer on racial reconciliation,” he noted. “But less than a third have addressed economic inequity or publicly lamented injustice.” [See chart]

Nine in 10 Protestant congregations would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation, according to their senior pastors (57% strongly agree, 33% somewhat agree). Seven percent disagree, while three …

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