TRENDS & Millennials are Leaving the Church… But Black Millennials Aren’t. My colleague Natasha Sistrunk Robinson explains why.

“Millennials are Leaving the Church, Who Cares?“ by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, Missio Alliance, March 6, 2017..

…But Black Millennials Aren’t

In his article titled, “Why Aren’t Black Millennials Leaving the Church,” Bryan T. Calvin drew on the 2012 PEW Research Center to make the case that Black millennials are not leaving the church, and there are specific reasons why they are staying. He writes, “In general, the numbers consistently show that blacks of all ages are more likely to maintain religious affiliation that whites.”

Why is this? He continues, “It seems that blacks are more invested in the practices and rituals associated with church life…Maybe the difference is that whites and blacks view the institution of the Church differently. Historically, the black church has always played an important communal role.”

Calvin continues his piece with another observation, “Talking about Millennials leaving the Church without specifying which Millennials is only half the conversation. And if the American Church is willing to enter into conversation beyond the racial lines that has often been drawn up around it, they may realize that the solution to their ‘problem’ of Millennials leaving is closer than they thought.”

Solution One: Embrace Diversity

Diversity seems like a buzz word and the lack of ethnic diversity in various arenas seems like am ever trending topic these days. I almost hesitated to use the wording here. Yet I persisted because I don’t know if the reality of the lack of ethnic diversity— including the lack of value of diverse voices, diverse experiences, and diversity in leadership— has sunk in to the psyche of the evangelical church.

The millennial generation values diversity while the evangelical church gives diversity lip service. The millennials have observed this hypocrisy and they are voting with their feet. The writing is on the wall. White millennials will not come back to the church unless there is authenticity and drastic change…

Solution Three: Focus on the Group and not the Individual

This year, Christianity Today published an article titled, “How Black and White Christians Do Discipleship Differently.” In it, they focus on Barna’s recent study regarding “Racial Divides in Spiritual Practices.” Concerning the state of discipleship, Barna reports that “black Christian leaders are more likely to say that ‘deepening one’s faith through education and fellowship’ is a goal of discipleship,” and mentorship as part of a group is a crucial part of fellowship.

This education includes the study of the Bible in a group, memorizing and meditating on Scriptures. Furthermore, they conclude that “Black communities tend toward communal rhythms of spiritual development” and that “one’s personal spiritual life had implication for social justice.” Finally, the report indicates that Black Christians place a higher value on their friends.

Read more at … http://www.missioalliance.org/millennials-leaving-church-cares/

CHURCH HISTORY & African rhythms, ideas of sin and the Hammond organ: A brief history of gospel music’s evolution

by Robert Stevens, The Conversation US, 3/28/18

The enslaved Africans who first arrived in the British colony of Virginia in 1619 after being forcefully removed from their natural environments left much behind, but their rhythms associated with music-making journeyed with them across the Atlantic.

Many of those Africans came from cultures where the mother tongue was a tonal language. That is, ideas were conveyed as much by the inflection of a word as by the word itself. Melody, as we typically think of it, took a secondary role and rhythm assumed major importance.

For the enslaved Africans, music – rhythm in particular – helped forge a common musical consciousness. In the understanding that organized sound could be an effective tool for communication, they created a world of sound and rhythm to chant, sing and shout about their conditions. Music was not a singular act, but permeated every aspect of daily life.

In time, versions of these rhythms were attached to work songs, field hollers and street cries, many of which were accompanied by dance. The creators of these forms drew from an African cultural inventory that favored communal participation and call and response singing wherein a leader presented a musical call that was answered by a group response.

A cornfield holler.

As my research confirms, eventually, the melding of African rhythmic ideas with Western musical ideas laid the foundation for a genre of African-American music, in particular spirituals and, later, gospel songs.

Spirituals: A journey

John Gibb St. Clair Drake, the noted black anthropologist, points out that during the years of slavery, Christianity in the U.S. introduced many contradictions that were contrary to the religious beliefs of Africans. For most Africans the concepts of sin, guilt and the afterlife, were new.

In Africa, when one sinned, it was a mere annoyance. Often, an animal sacrifice would allow for the sin to be forgiven. In the New Testament, however, Jesus dismissed sacrifice for the absolution of sin. The Christian tenet of sin guided personal behavior. This was primarily the case in northern white churches in the U.S. where the belief was that all people should be treated equally. In the South many believed that slavery was justified in the Bible.

This doctrine of sin, which called for equality, became central to the preaching of the Baptist and Methodist churches.

In 1787, reacting to racial slights at St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, two clergymen, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, followed by a number of blacks left and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The new church provided an important home for the spiritual, a body of songs created over two centuries by enslaved Africans. Richard Allen published a hymnal in 1801 entitled “A Collection of Spirituals, Songs and Hymns,” some of which he wrote himself.

His spirituals were infused with an African approach to music-making, including communal participation and a rhythmic approach to music-making with Christian hymns and doctrines. Stories found in the Old Testament were a source for their lyrics. They focused on heaven as the ultimate escape.

Spread of spirituals

After emancipation in 1863, as African-Americans moved throughout the United States, they carried – and modified – their cultural habits and ideas of religion and songs with them to northern regions.

Later chroniclers of spirituals, like George White, a professor of music at Fisk University, began to codify and share them with audiences who, until then, knew very little about them. On Oct. 6, 1871, White and the Fisk Jubilee Singers launched a fundraising tour for the university that marked the formal emergence of the African-American spiritual into the broader American culture and not restricted to African-American churches.

Their songs became a form of cultural preservation that reflected the changes in the religious and performance practices that would appear in gospel songs in the 1930s. For example, White modified the way the music was performed, using harmonies he constructed, for example, to make sure it would be accepted by those from whom he expected to raise money, primarily from whites who attended their performances.

As with spirituals, the gospel singers’ intimate relationship with God’s living presence remained at the core as reflected in titles like “I Had a Talk with Jesus,” “He’s Holding My Hand” and “He Has Never Left Me Alone.”

Read and watch more at … https://theconversation.com/african-rhythms-ideas-of-sin-and-the-hammond-organ-a-brief-history-of-gospel-musics-evolution-90737

BLACK HISTORY & 5 facts about the religious lives of African Americans #PewResearch #BlackHistoryMonth

by David Masci, Pew Research, 2/7/18.

Religion, particularly Christianity, has played an outsize role in African American history. While most Africans brought to the New World to be slaves were not Christians when they arrived, many of them and their descendants embraced Christianity, finding comfort in the Biblical message of spiritual equality and deliverance. In post-Civil War America, a burgeoning black church played a key role strengthening African American communities and in providing key support to the civil rights movement.

For Black History Month, here are five facts about the religious lives of African Americans.

1 Roughly eight-in-ten (79%) African Americans self-identify as Christian, as do seven-in-ten whites and 77% of Latinos, according to Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. Most black Christians and about half of all African Americans (53%) are associated with historically black Protestant churches, according to the study. Smaller shares of African Americans identify with evangelical Protestantism (14%), Catholicism (5%), mainline Protestantism (4%) and Islam (2%).

2 The first predominantly black denominations in the U.S. were founded in the late 18th century, some by free black people. Today, the largest historically black church in the U.S. is the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Inc. Other large historically black churches include the Church of God in Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), and two other Baptist churches – the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Association Inc.

3 African Americans are more religious than whites and Latinos by many measures of religious commitment. For instance, three-quarters of black Americans say religion is very important in their lives, compared with smaller shares of whites (49%) and Hispanics (59%); African Americans also are more likely to attend services at least once a week and to pray regularly. Black Americans (83%) are more likely to say they believe in God with absolute certainty than whites (61%) and Latinos (59%).

4 The share of African Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated has increased in recent years, mirroring national trends. In 2007, when the first Religious Landscape Study was conducted, only 12% of black Americans said they were religiously unaffiliated — that is, atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” By the time the 2014 Landscape Study was conducted, that number had grown to 18%. As with the general population, younger African American adults are more likely than older African Americans to be unaffiliated. Three-in-ten (29%) African Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say they are unaffiliated compared with only 7% of black adults 65 and older who say this.

5 Older African Americans are more likely than younger black adults to be associated with historically black Protestant churches. While 63% of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) say they identify with historically black denominations, only 41% of black Millennials say the same. (When the survey was conducted in 2014, Millennials included those born between 1981 and 1996.)

Read more at … http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/02/07/5-facts-about-the-religious-lives-of-african-americans/

CONVERSION & The 5 Thresholds of Postmodern Conversion Overview

By Tamice Hasty, Black Campus Ministries staff at Emory University

The five thresholds of postmodern conversion are concepts developed by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp in their book, I Once Was Lost. The thresholds were derived from the stories of postmodern skeptics who shared their stories of coming to faith. All of them seemed to pass through the same five distinct stages: from distrust to trust, from complacent to curious, from being closed to change in their lives to being open, from meandering to seeking, and entering into the Kingdom…

THRESHOLD 1: Trusting a Christian

The postmodern journey of conversion usually takes place when a skeptic begins to significantly trust a Christian. Today, Christianity and religion are suspect and distrust has become the norm. This hurts and is unpleasant for believers and can result in any number of the following five knee-jerk reactions.

Five Knee-Jerk Reactions from Christians:

1. Defend

We begin to close our hearts to non-Christians and treat them with contempt. We begin to point fingers and judge.

A better response is to pray. As we pray for the person, God will give us his heart for them. We can also intercede on this person’s behalf. Read “11 Prayers for Your Friends to Know Christ.”

2. Bruise

We become personally offended and feel a sense of shame and despair. Often, we retreat and decide never to try taking a risk again.

A better reaction is to learn. Try and understand where the person is coming from. Ask questions about why they feel distrust. Read “Answering the Question Behind the Question.”

3. Avoid

We distance ourselves from people and decide not to go near their circles. This results in an “us and them” mentality, and keeps Christians huddled together in a “Christian bubble.”

A better reaction is to bond. This is an opportunity to find common ground and meet them on their own turf. Sometimes a shared experience can break down walls of distrust.

4. Judge

We can often feel the temptation to write off non-Christians because they are not following Christ and use their shortcomings as a reason to treat them rudely.

A better reaction is to affirm. Seek to find good and truth in whatever is upsetting them, and affirm those things.

5. Argue

We engage in unhelpful and fruitless debates where the goal is to win an argument rather than win the person. Apologetics are not often helpful at this stage.

A better reaction is to welcome. Inviting someone into your space to see you walk out your faith in community is very disarming.

Three Common Pitfalls to Avoid:

1. Avoid Relativism: Be honest about the uniqueness of Christ.

2. Be with Them, but Don’t Sin: It’s okay to be on their turf as long as you don’t partake in things that compromise your character and integrity.

3. Don’t Walk Unwisely into Temptation: Know your weaknesses and don’t put yourself in situations that may cause you to compromise.

THRESHOLD 2: Becoming Curious

The stage of curiosity tends to blossom over time and usually has three levels of intensity. It’s a subtle shift from being passive to being provoked to think differently.

Levels of Curiosity:

1. Awareness

This is when the person becomes aware of options they never considered, and they become open to other possibilities than their own reality.

2. Engagement

This is when the person actually begins to seek answers and affirmations to their currently reality, i.e., researching religion and so on.

3. Exchange

This is a more vocal stage when the person begins to invite others into their curiosity and reasoning.

How to Provoke Curiosity:

1. Ask Questions

Jesus was asked 107 questions in the gospels and he only answered three of them! Yet, he asked 307 questions back to the people who questioned him.

Questions have a way of getting to the heart of the matter and that is one of the main places a decision to follow Christ takes place. Read “Why You Should Ask More Questions in Spiritual Conversations.”

2. Use Parables

Pay attention to the world around you and use everyday reality and circumstances to communicate deeper truths. Jesus used this method to draw out hunger in listeners.

3. Live Curiously

Live a life that causes people around you to ask questions. This cannot be faked. The way that we live in secret will affect the way we are perceived in public.

Christian community is essential at this stage since it gives the person a picture of what it looks like to live and relate as Christ followers.

THRESHOLD 3: Opening to Change

This is the hardest threshold to cross and where a lot of people turn back or stay where they are without moving forward. However, this is the stage where the Holy Spirit is especially at work, and when a person can finally become willing to make changes in their lifestyle.

How to Encourage Openness:

1. Be Patient

Choosing to make Christ the Lord of your life is a really big decision and the person is more than likely considering the cost.

2. Pray

This is a very vulnerable and scary place to be; it involves dying to oneself. The secret prayers of friends like you matter immensely at this threshold.

3. Challenge Like Jesus Did

Affirm with Gentle Honesty: “You are right in saying…you have had five husbands.” (John 4:18)

Give an Empowering Nudge: “Take up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8)

Be a Mirror for Their Logic: “You are a teacher of Israel, yet you do not understand.” (John 3:10)

Connect the Dots: “Truly, truly I say to you…” (John 12:24)

THRESHOLD 4: Seeking After God

This threshold is about coming to a conclusion. There may not be a lot of behavioral change here because they are just about to make a decision about Jesus. There is urgency and purpose to their seeking, and they have decided it’s time to make up their minds.

Characteristics of Seekers:

1. Seeking Jesus Specifically

They seek Jesus not just “God,” and thus have a clear object of intrigue.

2. Counting the Cost

They have been around enough to know the implications of becoming a believer.

3. Spending Time in Community

They spend time with Christians and at Christian events and services. Even if they are not fully aware of what is going on, they still feel it is worth going.

During this time, we can live out the Kingdom before their eyes by showing them how to build our lives around Jesus’ words, opening up our prayer life to them, providing answers to questions (using personal apologetics as opposed to philosophical apologetics), and modeling a life of seeking.

THRESHOLD 5: Entering the Kingdom

This is the point when the person decides to repent and follow Jesus! They have decided they want to cross a real and eternally significant line. They go from flirting to commitment. They look Jesus in the face and say “I do.”

During this phase, we want to be appropriately urgent; no one stays in seeking mode forever. We want to walk closely with them into this phase and thereafter.

We can find creative ways to communicate the gospel clearly, being careful to not oversimplify. However, we can invite them in ways they can understand:

  1. The Big Story
  2. The Wedding Vows
  3. The Sport Team
  4. The Revolution

We must also make sure to celebrate this step the right way! God is throwing a big ol’ party in heaven, so throw one on earth too!

After we lead someone to Christ, our work is not done. We have to commit to help them begin well. This is usually a 6-8 week process where we want to establish key spiritual disciplines in their lives like prayer, Bible study, community, evangelism, and service. We should seek to do these things with them.

One option is to use Launch to help new Christians learn how to follow Jesus. It is a website with 10 sessions focused on the top 10 questions new Christians in university settings have about growing their relationship with Jesus. Each session also includes supplemental exercises and resources for new Christians to check out on their own time and at their own pace. Plus, new Christians will find more advice and stories from mature Christians on the Launch blog.

Read more at … http://evangelism.intervarsity.org/resource/5-thresholds-postmodern-conversion-overview

Speaking hashtags: #Kingwood2018 LEAD 565 spiritual transformation

RACE & It is still the greatest polarizer in No. America – but there is slight progress #ChurchMustDoMore

Subjective and Objective Indicators of Racial Progress *

By Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, University of Pennsylvania, 5/12/10.

Abstract

Subjective well-being data reveal that blacks are less happy than are whites. However, much of this racial gap in happiness has closed over the past 35 years. We investigate measures of subjective well-being that indicate that the well-being of blacks has increased both absolutely and relative to whites. These changes in well-being are found across various datasets and measures of subjective well-being. However the gains in happiness are concentrated among women and those living in the south. While the opportunities and achievements of blacks have improved over this period, the happiness gains far exceed that which can be attributed to these objective improvements.

Download the entire research article here … http://users.nber.org/~bstevens/Papers/Happiness_Race.pdf

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MULTIPLICATION & The Next Iteration of the Black Church

by Ed Stetzer, The Exchange, 11/22/16.

…In recent interviews with several African-American church planters, three core themes arose that can give us some insight into the characteristics of what successful Black pastoral leadership will look like in our racially awakening America:

The ability to be “culturally bilingual.” Now more than ever Black pastors have to be able to speak both the language of the surrounding (urban) community and the language of their often suburban members. A high cultural IQ is critical. Successful Black pastors must be able to walk and talk in both worlds, often simultaneously.

Unusually thick skin. Because of the deeply stressed state of race relations in America, Black pastors need to be able to bring a sense of calm when necessary and be prepared to field some very, very inappropriate (and even hurtful) questions. People of all races have been wrestling silently with how they feel about race for years—even decades. Many are now experiencing a renewed sense of freedom and courage to ask previously “stuffed” questions. Black pastors need to be a safe place for curious people to ask these questions without being penalized.

A systematic theology of race and justice. In essence, the Black pastor needs to be able to differentiate between social justice (defined by society, ever changing) and biblical justice (defined by God’s word, thus unchanging). America needs pastors that can articulate a clear case for mobilizing their local churches to be God’s change agents in the area of racial justice. Unfortunately, we may once again need more feet in the streets and in places of power, and those feet have to be connected to a theological rationale for why they are there…

Read more at … http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/november/next-iteration-of-black-church.html

SOCIOECONOMICS & African Americans won’t reach white wealth levels for centuries, report says

By Greg LaRose, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, 8/9/16.

The white population in the United States can expect their wealth to grow $18,000 each year over the next 30 years, while the annual increase for African Americans will be only $750 if current fiscal policies stay in place.

“The Ever Growing Gap,” a study released Tuesday (Aug. 9), examines racial income disparities using data from the Survey of Consumer Finance, a research project of the Federal Reserve Board. The Corporation for Enterprise Development and Institute for Policy Studies used information from 1983 to 2013 to make their projections

Their report defines wealth as more than just extra money in the bank. It includes home ownership, having the means to earn a college degree and save for retirement, and other opportunities that are attainable with savings and investments.

The authors point to tax policies designed to build household wealth, benefit homebuyers, increase retirement savings and start a business — opportunities that are out of reach for the poorest segments of the population.

Looking back, whites saw their average wealth increase 84 percent over the past 30 years — 1.2 times the rate for Latinos and three times the African American growth rate.

If the growth rate stays at the current pace, it would take black families 228 years to accumulate the same wealth that white families have today. For Latino families, the gap would take 84 years to close…

The report frames these disparities in the context of recent deaths of African Americans in police shootings.

“These senseless and violent events have not only given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, they have also sharpened the nation’s focus on the inequities and structural barriers facing households of color,” the report states.

The authors acknowledge their look at wealth data rather than household income further skews the differences, but they note the gaps still exist when considering median wealth figures.

Changes in household wealth
Black Latino White
1983 $67,000 $58,000 $355,000
2013 $85,000 $98,000 $656,000
Survey of Consumer Finance

The report says a more even distribution of wealth would allow the disadvantaged to “get ahead, rather than just scrape by.”

“Imagine that instead of low-wealth Black and Latino families finding themselves unable to deal with fluctuating incomes or how they’re going to make it through an unexpected financial emergency, they have the freedom to invest in their children’s future aspirations. Or, instead of resorting to selling loose cigarettes or CDs to earn a little more money for their families, Blacks and Latinos have the opportunity to build long-term wealth by owning their own businesses.”

Read more at … http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2016/08/african_americans_latinos_wont.html