Millennials are leaving the Church. That’s the conclusion that is drawn from much of the recent readings. The statement is only partially true, however, and it presents a great opportunity for the evangelical church to reconsider how she approaches the millennial generation, makes disciples, and views diversity. Taking another look at this problem offers some promising solutions.
Millennials are Leaving the Church
In a recent article titled “59 Percent of Millennials Raised in the Church Have Dropped Out — And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why” on Faith It, writer Sam Eaton reported that “only 4 percent of the Millennial Generation are Bible-Based Believers. This means that 96 percent of Millennials likely don’t live out the teachings of the Bible, value the morals of Christianity and probably won’t be found in a church.”
Drawing on information from a 2014 Barna study concerning this group of 22-to-35 year olds, the findings are consistent with reporting from the past decade or more. A simple Google search of “why are millennials leaving the church” will only lead us to draw a dismal conclusion about the relationship between the church and her lost millennials. In research for my book, Mentor for Life, however, I made a note to highlight that the Black Church is not experiencing the same decline among this coveted group.
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Imagine two neighbors, one white and one black sitting down for a cup of coffee. The white neighbor has history in the small town—her family runs the local restaurant, her uncle is the community pastor, her mom is a career teacher at the only primary school, and her great uncle is the mayor. The story of the white neighbor is well known by everyone and it is considered normal. The black neighbor is new to town, so her story is virtually unknown. It is either distorted, rarely heard, or told in small snippets.
This is what it sometimes feels like to be black in America. We are treated as outsiders in a town where those in the majority group know and trust each other because of a known and shared history; but because of limited personal interactions, lack of familiarity, or cultural awareness, it is easy for Americans who identify as white to perpetuate lies and myths about their black and brown neighbors.
Some may ask: Why are we so divided across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic lines in America? I believe people desperately want an accessible way to answer this question, to confront their concerns, and to better understand themselves and their neighbors. People of good will may long to shed their fears of the unknown, reject false assumptions, and enter into relationships with their neighbor, but for this to happen, we must trade in the shallow break room chatter for more informed dinner conversations and long talks on the front porch.
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When I was a college student at the United States Naval Academy, I received an email from a stranger who was tracing his family tree. My maiden name “Sistrunk” is quite rare, and it is one that we shared so he wanted a chance to meet. Since I was intrigued and didn’t know him, I thought it best that we meet in a public and safe place. I invited him to attend a Naval Academy Gospel Choir concert where I would be singing on the secure campus grounds.
I suspected he was a white male. When he arrived, he discovered that I was black. We shared our pleasantries and after such initial persistence, I never heard from him again. The unspoken truth between us revealed there was really only one way for him and me to share a last name. But you see, he thought there was no place for me in his story.
But there is a history and connected between both of our stories and indeed our lives. Both are laced with brokenness, violence, and darkness while offering a hope for a better future.
The Darkness of Slavery
I was privileged to complete an early screening of the movie, “Birth of a Nation,” now in movie theaters everywhere. If this viewing has taught me anything, it has reminded me of the interconnectedness of our stories and our brokenness. It has caused me again to reflect on the violence that takes place in the darkness.
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