Joshua L Mitchell, author of the book Black Millennials and the Church, shares what his work reveals about how black churches can engage younger adults — strategies that are valuable advice for any congregation looking to better connect with the next generation.
Based on the findings of my study, here are five strategies that any church can implement today that have proven to be effective in engaging black Millennials.
1. Genuine community
Millennials are a hyper-relationally driven generation. The importance of building genuine and loving communities cannot be overstated. In an age of Facebook facades and fickle friendships, it is refreshing for Millennials to find church communities where they are accepted and cared for. Smaller congregations have an opportunity to provide the level of intimacy and personalized care in a way that larger congregations may struggle to achieve. Leaders can take time to know these young people by name and learn about their lives and backgrounds. Congregations may consider organizing small tribes or groups of young adults based on birthdays or zip codes and assigning young leaders to facilitate fellowship and study opportunities among the group. Create opportunities for seasoned professionals in the congregation to be matched with and become mentors for Millennials in the congregation with similar interests. Ensure that greeters and ushers are hospitable and warm from the first meeting on the parking lot and find ways to foster a family atmosphere within the congregation. If your congregation does not have many young adults, collaborate and fellowship with other congregations to strengthen the level of programming provided. All of these things come without a price tag but go a long way toward creating safe space for black Millennials to engage in spiritual formation.
2. Community engagement
The black church has always served as a pseudo-social service agency for the community, ensuring that families have what they need to survive and thrive. Churches seeking to engage black Millennials must continue in this tradition of being the charitable hand and prophetic voice in the communities they serve. Many churches, large and small, are already doing this work. It is not important for congregations to do everything in the community, but it is important that congregations are engaged in something that makes a visible and tangible difference for others. Millennials are world changers and are wired to expect immediate gratification. Churches must provide opportunities for black Millennials to get their hands dirty and serve where they can immediately sense the impact of their work. Moreover, it is not enough for churches to simply do the work. They must tell these stories so that young people are aware and energized about the work of their church.
3. Evangelism and promotion
To be sure, churches must invest in quality websites and online giving opportunities, but how else can churches effectively compel Millennials to come to our local churches? Believe it or not, my study revealed that the most effective way for congregations to promote their programming is not through social media or media at all. Overwhelmingly, black Millennials suggest that the most effective way to pull them in is through the personal invitation of another. In consumer marketing terms, nothing is more effective at driving traffic than a brand ambassador — someone who has engaged with and been transformed by the brand — going back to her peer group to relay the message. Young people who are transformed and grow as a result of engaging our ministries become the best advocates and evangelists for us.
4. Effective Christian education
The same way that I learned the books of the Bible — through weekly repetition — is the same way I am teaching our Millennial students the books of the Bible today. The same way I was able to internalize important Scripture that I would need through my life is the same way I help our students internalize the Scripture. The same open discussion format that my father has used for years so that Bible study attendees could talk through the Scripture together is the same format that is best received by the Millennials I serve today. The more things change, the more things stay the same!
Many of the strategies utilized to disciple me as a child are still useful tools for churches. But be strong enough to ask questions of the young people you seek to serve to see what works for them, celebrating the tools already used by your ministry that work while being unafraid to abandon those that do not. In the end, the goal is not to hold on to our cherished Sunday school or discipleship models for nostalgia’s sake but to seek effective educational models that benefit the Peters who are willing to engage us on the water.
5. The Word still works
My final encouragement to every teacher, preacher, or pastor who is seeking to engage black Millennials in their spiritual formation process is this: continue to preach and teach the Word. As the writer of the hymn “Lift Him Up” suggests, black Millennials have an appetite for the Bread of Life and it is up to us to keep lifting high the name of Jesus! Men and women of God, keep reaching the gospel! Keep lifting Jesus up, and God will continue to draw men and women to God’s self and to God’s church.
The good news, my study suggests, is that the more things change, the more things stay the same! It is likely that your church is already doing some of the things that will optimize the spiritual formation process for black Millennials. Have the tough conversations, make the appropriate investment, create the necessary safe spaces, and bid them to come!
Excerpted from Black Millennials & the Church: Meet Me Where I Am by Joshua L. Mitchell, copyright © 2018 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press. The book is also available at Cokesbury and Amazon.
- New Wine, New Wineskins: How African American Congregations Can Reach New Generations by Doug Powe
- Think Bigger: The Challenge of Reaching Millennials by David McAllister-Wilson
- Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations by Doug Powe And Jasmine Smothers
- Leading Ideas to Reach Young Adults ebook