Black Millennials and Religiosity
Jeff Diamant and Besheer Mohamed write:
About six-in-ten black Millennials (61%) say they pray at least daily, a significantly higher share than the 39% of nonblack Millennials saying this. And while 38% of black Millennials say they attend religious services at least weekly, just a quarter (25%) of other Millennials do this, according to the analysis based on data from the Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study.
The 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that about two-thirds of black Millennials are “highly religious” when factoring stated belief in God, strong belief in the importance of religion, and the regularity of prayer and worship attendance. Diamant and Mohamed observe that this is a significantly higher percentage than nonblack Millennials, of whom 39% are categorized as highly religious.
Diamant and Mohamed also report “black Millennials are substantially less religious than older black adults by these measures.”
Lisa Fields is the founder of the Jude 3 Project, and has developed resources in Christian apologetics for African Americans. You can listen to Fields share her mission and ministry on the Stand to Reason podcast.
In an interview with CT Women, Fields was asked about the biggest challenge facing the church today and the role of apologetics in answering that challenge. She said:
Millennial retention. A lot of millennials are leaving religion because they feel like church is not relevant. Millenials are the most well-educated generation of African Americans, and as they’re becoming more educated, they’re asking different questions and being exposed to different ideas. In the ’60s and ’70s, many black churches thought classical apologetics was irrelevant to them because most black people weren’t questioning the existence of God and Christianity.
Fields was also asked about the objections to Christianity that she hears from black Millennials:
I think identity is one of the main differences between black millennials’ and white milliennials’ questions. Black millennials see Christianity as something that was given to them by white evangelicals, and they have so many negative connotations with white evangelicals that they’re just rejecting it all. So I see a lot of black millennials across the socio-economic spectrum questioning “the white man’s religion.” Some people go toward radical black cults and others say, “I’m just spiritual.” There’s a lot of talk about “the universe.”
The hypocrisy of the church is also a real obstacle for many people, too. There’s hypocrisy within white churches and hypocrisy within black churches. Some are critical of religion being overly emotional and not having enough reason, and some are critical of the fact that when they do get more in-depth teaching, it’s usually done by whites. So it just depends on whom you’re asking. It also depends on the part of the country you’re in. That goes back to the importance of listening: You can’t talk to five millennials and think you have a handle on millennial issues.
Openness to Christianity will vary by region, class, ethnicity, education level, and religious background. The overall decline in religiosity among Millennials is the “big picture” trend, but the challenges specific to subgroups within the Millennial cohort will vary. The only way to find out is to engage with your Millennials neighbors, and be a neighbor. Ask them what their struggles are, and discern how you can help.
As you evangelize and disciple Millennials, be sensitive to their unique backgrounds, listen carefully, and respond to the questions, doubts, and obstacles you encounter. Take note of trends, but remember: all ministry is local.