ALEXANDRIA, Va. (RNS) At Alfred Street Baptist Church, the pews start to fill more than half an hour before the service begins. White-uniformed ushers guide African-Americans of all ages to their seats. Some stand and wave their hands in the air as the large, robed choir begins to sing.
In September, after using a dozen wired overflow rooms, the church will start its fourth weekend service.
So many people attend, church leaders are now asking people to limit their attendance to one service.
“Pick your service,” said the Rev. Edward Y. Jackson, an assistant to the pastor, at the start of a recent service. “Come in, come early, get your parking space so we can all enjoy and worship God together.”
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Christians are losing their share of the U.S. population, dropping to 71 percent in 2014, down from 78 percent in 2007, with young people leading the exodus. But historically black denominations have bucked that trend, holding on to a steady percent of members during that same period.
As significant, the share of millennial-generation African-Americans who affiliate with historically black churches is similar to that of older churchgoers.
“I think black churches have always been very pivotal in social movements and outreach,” said Kelli Slater, 20, a Howard University student from Mississippi who was visiting Alfred Street at the invitation of her older sister. “I think black churches do a whole lot more than religion.”