A young man recently told me he doesn’t believe in Christianity, but he believes in the Black Church. He recognizes the historical significance the Black Church has on black culture, activism, family values, community, etc. He went on to say ‘Without the Black Church, we’re not black anymore.’
There used to be a time when church going parents dragged their children to church and as they grew it became mandatory the children continued going to church through their teen years. Once they became adults they decided for themselves whether to continue in their parent’s church, find a new church, or stop going to church all together.
Now days, there are a lot of young parents who aren’t attending church and subsequently their children aren’t attending either. It’s not hard to miss the stark reduction in attendance at many Chester churches that used to pack ‘em in every Sunday. Young people are not attracted to these churches and not much effort is being made to change that scenario.
What’s the chance that these old school Chester churches are going to reclaim the young generation? What do they have to offer the youngsters? What attracts a young person to a church full of old people? Nothing!
Young folks are seeking a church experience that totally focuses on the needs and desires of their generation. These experiences aren’t being hatched by the Baby Boomers leading most churches today. There needs to be a movement of youth church leadership creating the new church experience for Generation X’er, Millennials, and the Gen Z’ers coming up behind them.
Maybe, in the first time in human history, old folks and young folks won’t be worshiping together. What the young folks are creating as a church experience looks nothing like what the church has been running with since almost forever. Is that a bad thing or is this the way it’s going to be from now on?
Old folks mistake the absence of young people in church as the absence of young folks seeking God. Many young folks seek God but can’t stand the Sunday morning church services run by people their grandparent’s age. They can’t relate to the music, the message, the rituals and standards. They form no sense of community with anyone in the congregation since most of them are older. It doesn’t take long before they seek another church they can relate to or quit all together because all churches seem the same.
But there are some young ministers starting worship experiences for young people. My cousin is an example of a Millennial who is ordained and became frustrated when so many young people with tattoos were being ostracized from their churches. My cousin started ‘The INK Church’ in New Jersey where young folks with all their issues, quirks, ideocracies, challenges, and desire for fellowship are urged to connect to a spiritual house of God that understands them. They come in droves.
From my perspective, the few Millennial led churches I’ve come across remind me more of a night club than a church. The floor is usually set up with just enough folding chairs as needed as opposed to rows of stiff empty pew benches. The alter isn’t adorned with chairs that look like thrones, fancy lecterns, or chiseled communion tables. Instead, the front of the room may just be a few microphone stands or maybe a riser big enough to support the praise dance team. There isn’t a choir box because the choir is the whole congregation who sing along to the hottest new gospel songs sometimes played by musicians or just sung along from the CD.
You don’t see anyone passing velvet lined shiny plates or wicker baskets collecting money from the young folks. They are just as likely to contribute using Apple Pay, Venmo, or the CashApp as they are with their dollars. I ran across a church in Buckhead Atlanta that doesn’t take collection at all.
Millennial pastors are not as likely to preach from arcane bible passages. The messages may sound more secular than spiritual. The theme on Woman’s Day may be ‘How to Please your Man who’s making less money than you.’ On Men’s Day it may be ‘How, Why, and When to Cuddle with your Boo.’
Young folks in these Millennial churches are very close knit. The congregations are usually moderately sized which allows members to get to know each other. The sense of community is strong and they often meet up outside of church doing regular stuff like shopping, attending events, going out to eat, or happily hanging at the monthly church bowling party.
Just like young folks are rejecting the old people church service, you can bet that most old people aren’t attracted to the Millennial church. Isn’t that the way it is at the club?
A 45-year-old player is not particularly welcome in the night club where 21-year-olds hang out. Older adults find other places to party with their own age group. Older folks would rather dance to Jeffery Osborne than to Lil Uzi Vert. We prefer our musicians play an instrument and sing into a microphone as opposed to music coming from a computer and singers using voice boxes and auto-tunes.
If the separation between young and old is so easy to accept in the way we party, it should be just as logical that the way we worship be different, too. Naturally, the 20-year-old attending a Millennial church that looks like a night club will be looking for a different experience when she’s 40. Her 60-year-old mother who is still practicing that ‘Old Time Religion’ is in her comfort zone of worship. Things will change as we age and we may be at that point that churches will, and must, segregate by age as they’ve always segregated by race, creed, and color.
As today’s churches age out by not being attractive to young worshipers, expect to see many Chester churches close their doors in the next 10 to 15 years and maybe even sooner if COVID-19 hangs around for another year.
There is hope young people will be encouraged to keep the tradition of the Black Church alive by creating religious experiences they are attracted to and willing to support. It’s not going to look much like what many of us are used to and that’s the price we’re going to have to pay for the survival of the Black Church.
There is hope! I attended Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta where Reverend Dr. Damon P. Williams, pastors. That service was the closest I’ve ever come to seeing the old Black church traditions combine smoothly with what attracts young folks. That’s a great example of a church making the right moves to sustain themselves for the long haul.