The black church culture has been around for many years; a preaching black slave named Andrew Bryan started it as early as in the seventeenth century in Savannah, Georgia. Since then, the black church has evolved into one of the most massive religious organizations of African Americans. This group comprises a subculture of young black millennials who have shifted away from the strict and judgmental aspects of Christianity. Black millennials who practice Christianity are evolving into a generation that seeks to build the relationship over religion, spreading love and not hate, demonstrating a “come as you are” approach. This essay aims to explore how black millennials reshape the old black church’s ways, galvanizing a movement that will influence future generations.
I identify with this group as an individual; however, I see many challenges in my personal choices and group dynamics. For the past three years, I have been serving as a licensed and ordained minister at my church; currently, I am a youth Pastor. This experience gave me the evidence that most black millennials identifying with this group have been heavily involved in the black church because of parental belonging since a very young age, as myself. Some of the messages we got were troubling and traumatizing. They made us believe that if we do not follow the laws of the Old Testament in the Bible, we will end up in hell. There was shunning and persecution for the so-called sins, such as having children out of wedlock, premarital sex, and homosexuality. The old black church has caused many to stray away from the faith, resulting in depression or alcohol and drug abuse.
This group has strict policies, and those who fail to obey, become outsiders, and to illustrate it, I find it relevant to share the story I witnessed. A very close friend of mine, who once identified with this group, had just turned eighteen and graduated from high school. She went off to college and soon began to succumb to peer pressure. She started to engage in activities like partying, drinking, and eventually lost her virginity. Older church members found out about it through social media platforms; as a result, she was looked down upon, and rumors circulated. She tried to reach out to her Pastor to acknowledge that while she made mistakes, the Bible frequently talks about forgiveness. This meeting never happened, and therefore she abandoned the church and quit the practice of Christianity altogether. Her story is one example of what black millennials have endured within the culture of the black church’s systematic traditions.
One of the primary reasons black millennials tend to branch away from the old church and recreate the manner we practice Christianity is that we seek truth in a new way. We research everything from Biblical context, historical events, and try very hard to interpret what the word of God is saying. The intense spiritual life of black millennials has interested researchers who find that spirituality in African American Youth is a specific phenomenon (Wright). We also share faith with others in a way that is transparent and relevant to the 21st century. Our main goal is to recreate the ministry of Jesus Christ, something that the old church failed to do. We want individuals to know that God can meet them where they are, no matter what they have done. We strive to build a relationship and, most importantly, walk in love as Christ did.
This group’s main objective is to see people liberated from shame and guilt so that they realize that forgiveness, grace, and mercy are available to all who believe. Black millennials also focus on inclusivity (“come as you are” approach), and although we may not agree with your sins of drug abuse and alcoholism, we love you as our brother or sister in Christ. Common activities attract individuals and keep them motivated in their desire to belong to this group.
We meet mostly on Sunday mornings at our local churches out of reverence for the older generation. However, black millennials of this group usually gather and commune twice a week in small life groups. Each group has a specific design and purpose, whether it is a group for singles, new believers, men and women groups, and families. It is not restricted to just church members; anyone in the community is welcome.
I facilitated a women’s small group, where half of the participants heard about my small group through friends or family members and had never even attended my church. The group was inspiring; I met with ten amazing women each Thursday who had various backgrounds and went through some hardships. We ate together, truly fellowshipped, and were able to communicate our thoughts and concerns about everyday life without the fear of judgment. Women’s group is an example of collective transformative experience; this belonging made it possible for the participants to feel empowered.
Here community building comes to life: these small groups bring us together on a personal level. In a group, we build each other and encourage one another, be it practical or spiritual. We consider this model a real church; we do not need an enclosed building with four walls to define our spirituality. These small life groups even conducted baptisms at an apartment complex. Surveys show that over 50% of black millennials in the U.S. who have recently begun to practice the Christian faith prefer to be involved in small life groups rather than meeting in the traditional church building. Millennials inside the black church see faith as a dynamic practice, not as a set of rituals.
Another remarkable thing about this group is that we are not in opposition to any other group. We do not engage in violent arguments with those who do not identify with our group; instead, we aim to start a healthy dialogue and present our knowledge of Biblical facts. We also give opposing groups or outsiders a chance to share why they do not agree with our Christian beliefs and values. Even when someone is an atheist and does not believe in God, we can respectfully walk away in peace.
For our group, the experience of these conversations has built partnerships within our communities. We are teaming up for charitable causes and even supporting one another for social changes. The old traditions of the black church are stricter, but they make our group stand out on this background. We stand up for what we feel and know is right and want people to see God’s love after each encounter they have experienced with us.
New tendencies in the black church create tensions and change group dynamics. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the relations between the black church and Christian black millennials have been an interesting journey. Some representatives of the older generations say that we are too young and ill-equipped to advocate faith. We have also been told that we are too radical in our self-representation. Some members of the old church consider that showing up to church in sweats and t-shirts inappropriate. It also deals with how we express ourselves through hip-hop gospel music over the old hymns and negro spirituals that have been passed down. The black church culture even feels that we are making a mockery out of the church, which has led to accusations of blasphemy.
On the other hand, some leaders in the black church love how our group is revolutionizing the group. They have even apologized for the way they have treated us in the past, which has led to conversations of leaders. They explained that most of the theology and doctrine that they imposed upon our generation had been learned from their elders, which led them to believe that there was no better way. Many of them stated that they never wanted to enforce a culture of condemnation and guilt but feared losing their position as pastors and leaders in the black church. It set a path for the elders of the black church and millennials to reconcile and unite. In terms of group development, it shows that although we do not agree on some of the teachings and morale of the old black church, we will most certainly respect our elders. Millennials’ subculture is open for a dialogue to cooperate with the old black church.
Being a black millennial and trying to reshape the black church can be a hard assignment, but it is inspiring. We define ourselves as a group of men and women leaders who use our gifts and talents to serve others. Our generation of black church members is a clearly defined group because we crossed barriers as no one has done before. We have made connections with other cultures, and we go on in the face of adversity. The group of Christian black millennials experienced transformations explored in this essay. We move on, keeping a focus on the mission of displaying the love of Christ.
Wright, Almeda. The Spiritual lives of Young African Americans. Oxford University Press. 2017.