It looks like religious black grandmothers’ threats of damnation, fire and brimstone might have kept some of you on the straight and narrow path into adulthood. A recent report from the Pew Research Center revealed that black millennials, adults now aged 22 to 37, are more religious than other millennial groups.
The report showed that 61 percent of black millennials pray daily and 38 percent attend church weekly compared to 39 percent and 25 percent for nonblack millennials, respectively. Black millennials, including myself, do get together on Sundays for more than brunches and watching the latest episode of “Power.” But, there are still challenges to having us among your congregation.
“The older generation has respect of title. Just because I’m a pastor, they will give you the benefit of the doubt. Not the millennial,“ said Jermaine Nichols, senior pastor at Greater Works Center in Fort Mill, S.C. “Sometimes they want to see the balance sheet, and I love it! There’s a certain transparency millennials demand because they realize their time is precious.”
Nichols, 44, can relate to the defiance of millennials. He started his own church 10 years ago following what he described as “church hurt” from a previous place of worship. Nichols wanted to be spiritual rather than participate in the church as an institution – a sentiment echoed by many millennials. It was some of his former church members who inspired him to start Greater Works.
A different look from previous generations
While the statistics for older black individuals are significantly higher (78 percent pray daily and 50 percent attend church weekly, according to Pew), religious leaders know young adults still value places of worship in large numbers – at least the black ones do.
Lack of authenticity can also be a deal breaker.
“Some of these pastors have stylists and people to curate their image. What we’re finding out about millennials is that they can see through that. If a pastor can’t be real and talk about his struggles, eventually [millennials will] get hip to it. Millennials are constantly evaluating the use of their time, energy and money.”
The differences between how my generation does church compared to older generations are an enigma for many traditional black churches – even more so for those in the south. Church leaders’ physical and mental wellbeing may benefit from the lower maintenance of younger adults.
“Generations prior want their pastor to be always present. If they get sick, the pastor shows up to the hospital or someone is offended. That burns out a lot of pastors,” Nichols said. “Millennials like community, but they also want their privacy. They are ok watching their pastor on a TV screen or computer monitor. They are ok with their pastor not having a personal relationship with them. They are lower maintenance.”
Religion is a topic we’re often told not discuss around mixed company, but modern church within the black community is creating lots to talk about.