It’s a traditional Wednesday night Bible study at New Bethel Baptist Church, and the pews are partly filled. But online, more than 700 viewers are tuned in on Facebook Live.
The pastor asks, “Do you think there is an identity crisis in the church?” While attendees respond to that question in person at the church, online viewers made more than 60 comments and shared links for the next hour.
This is Bible study in the new millennium for New Bethel, which started integrating social media into worship last spring.
In recent years, church attendance for young adults ages 18 to 35 years old has been in decline across the United States, according to Pew reports. But while some historically black churches are closing their doors because the number of parishioners is declining, New Bethel and a few other churches in the District are winning over these millennials.
As Washington’s population increases and its racial demographics change, millennials of multiple ethnic backgrounds are finding their spiritual guidance and comfort in historically black churches, such as New Bethel, because these churches are addressing topics and using tools that matter to their generation.
Raygan Rogers, 27, attends a Sunday service at New Bethel Baptist Church in Shaw. (Henrietta Holiday)
“I was partying. I needed to turn my life around,” said Raygan Rogers, 27, a dialysis patient care technician, who recently added her name to the list of millennial members at New Bethel. “So I tried God out.”
She traded happy hours for these church pews in Shaw.
“The word was so good. It felt fresh,” Rogers said after her first Bible study at New Bethel. “The word of God woke up something in me that was asleep for a while.”
The pastor at New Bethel said that historically black churches such as his attract millennials because of their social and civil activities, technology engagement, and pastoral care.
“Historically black churches were created because there wasn’t a place for black people at white churches,” the Rev. Dexter Nutall said. “The millennials are very curious about God. They’re looking for community and real meaningful expressions of faith that transcend the sanctuary.”
While some historically black churches have moved into the suburbs in part because of membership decline, New Bethel’s membership has grown tremendously over the last few years, going from 300 to a little more than 1,300.
Nearly half the current members at the 116-year-old congregation are now millennials (ages 23 to 38) and post-millennials (22 and under). That has changed many aspects of the church, even the collection plate: Attendees use CashApp, a mobile app for sending money, to donate from their phones.
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Source: Washington Post