A panel of African American Christian leaders expressed optimism that the Black Church is emerging from COVID-19 and the simultaneous crisis of civil rights as a strong social justice movement that is increasingly trusted by rising generations.
“We have seen many young people move from megachurches to these boutiques and smaller churches. They want a sense of community, a sense of connection, and they want their children to grow up with other children of faith, ”said CJ Rhodes, pastor of Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., And chaplain at Alcorn State University.
Rhodes was one of several participants in an online discussion on “Trends in the Black Church,” a series of surveys published by Barna this year. The live event on November 15 covered topics including young people’s attitudes about the church and pastors, and the church’s role in social justice movements.
Attitudes of young black Christians align with the trends that Rhodes said he sees in his own and other churches.
Among black church visitors, Barna found that 87% of millennials and 86% of Generation Z Christians described church membership as “very” or “somewhat” desirable, compared to 95% Gen X and 97% Boomer.
“I am encouraged that many of my peers, even Gene Alpha, have a love affair with the church,” said Rhodes, who identified himself on the generation line between Millennial and Gene Z.
“They may have problems with the church. They love Jesus, but they do not like the nonsense that happens in many of our congregations. But we see a lot of young people interested in the historic Black Church. ”
“I am encouraged that many of my peers, even General Alpha, have a love affair with the church.”
We’ve seen the past five or 10 years an increase in the number of young adults seeking services for their children and youth, he said. “They join the church because it’s a place where they believe children can be nurtured.”
And they feel like it’s a place and they can be nurtured. “They want to be there for a long time to have a sense of connection. This is interesting because 10 years ago it wasn’t the conversation we were listening to. “
Another positive thing for the church is that most in Barn’s research identified the institution as an integral part of understanding the black experience in America and many young people appreciate black pastors, said Tony Lee, senior pastor of the Community of Hope AME Church community in Hillcrest Heights. Md.
In 2020, Barna reported, 79% of all black adults agreed with the statement: “To understand the African-American experience, it is necessary to understand the role of religious faith in the lives of blacks. That was more with 71% in 1996.
Among black believers, however, 88% agreed with the statement, Barna says.
“It showed me that the black church is still an integral part of what people feel about the black experience,” he said. “It showed me what it means to be black in America and that religion is an integral part of it.”
The future of the church looks promising because young people have expressed confidence in the leading role of pastors, Lee added.
The study found that 75% of Generation Z blacks either “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed with the statement: “Pastors of African American churches are the most important leaders within the black community.”
That’s compared to 70% of Generation Z (including 48% of those who “strongly” agreed), 78% of Generation X, and 76% of Boomers, Barna said.
Among all adult African Americans, 69% agreed with the statement in 2020, compared to 63% in 1996. Blacks as a group, 77%, agreed that pastors are the most important leaders in their community.
Lee noted that the research was done during the pandemic, the protest season for social justice and the disputed election year. “In the midst of all this, younger people considered the black pastor to be the most important leader in the black community.”
Co-moderator Brianna K. Parker, founder of the Black Millennial Café and lead researcher for the Trends in the Black Church study, injected that many young African-American Christians are instilled with gratitude for leadership after growing up in the ministry for children and youth. of black churches.
But the continued association of American Christianity with conservative political movements and Christian nationalism poses a challenge to attracting and retaining young people, she said.
“We almost need a new name to know what kind of Christian you are. Are you the kind who believes that children have a place in cages or the kind who believes you should take care of widows and orphans? ” Parker remarked.
Respect for black churches and the clergy also stems from the leadership they have taken in the social justice movement that emerged in response to George Floyd’s death in 2020 and other police killings of African Americans, said Timothy E. Findley Jr., senior pastor of the Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville, Ky.
“More people tend to ask pastors to discuss social justice issues,” he said. “We’re going back to the point where people expect responsibility, and they expect us to speak up.”
An additional strength that will serve the Black Church in the future is its openness to women’s leadership abilities, said Shannon Polk, executive director of The Witness Foundation.
Although women have always had a voice, their authority is growing due to increased educational opportunities and growing support from churches and denominations, she said. “For the women who sat in the benches wondering where they could find their voice, we were able to show it.”
A new study finds affirmation of the black church experience even when attendance declines
The black church is an important antidote to social despair caused by the supremacy of whites
In Georgia, the demonization of black liberation theology again Steven Harmon’s opinion