A "Theological Reformation" Among Black Millennials


Meagan Jordan of Sojourners writes:

For nearly a decade, pollsters have been reporting the trend of disaffiliation with the church, particularly among millennials. This shift is playing out in the black church, though the rates of disaffiliation and eschewing overall spirituality are less pronounced. Black millennials are more likely to pray and believe that a higher power exists than other races, but a steady percentage of black millennials are still disengaging — and they are not returning to the church as they age. Instead, they are finding new ways and places where they can be free to stand in their identity.

What are those new ways, and what are those new places? Jordan reports on the Something in the Water music festival as one such avenue of expression, thought, culture, and connection where Black millennials are exploring and articulating their faith. Within the music festival, Jordan writes of a nearby “pop-up church, organized by Pharrell’s uncle, Bishop Ezekiel Williams from Faith World ministries in Norfolk, Va., and featuring artists like John P. Kee, Kirk Franklin, and Mary Mary. The church, which resembled an outside tent revival, featured a host of choirs, poetry, gospel rap, and a mini-sermon, whose preacher played on the festival’s water theme.

In one area, there is the hub of the music festival, and in the next is a space for religious expression and exploration, each taking place alongside the other, serving different needs, and allowing for intersections and confluences between music, faith, and culture to occur. One such instance was that of a #gODTalk panel, which Jordan states is “a mobile conversation, hosted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and partner, Pew Research.”

Jordan reports that these conversations touch on a variety of subjects, including ways black Millennials believe that their churches are in need of reformation. Writing about her experience in the black church, Jordan states:

As a black millennial, my main reason for attending church was that my parents required it. But as I got older and began to unpack some of the homophobia, sexism, and blatant erasure of black identity within my Baptist church, I found little reason to maintain attendance. I still believe in God, who I call Spirit, and on occasion attend service whether online or in person. But I believe that there are more ways to connect with Spirit that don’t require attending a physical building every week.

Jordan remains a spiritual seeker, but she has moved away from the tradition of her youth. Other black Millennials are questioning their tradition as well and are charting a different path.

As this movement continues to move forward it will be important to listen, understand, and even to answer. If your church community ministers to black Millennials, awareness of the #gODTALK movement and other instances where music and faith intersect will continue to be important. Mutual understanding will be key not only for relationship and love of neighbor, but for ministry, growth, and responding to valid critiques.