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Why Black Churches Are Keeping Millennials

The reasons are rooted in history.

Should blacks be counted as Millennials?

That’s the question Thabiti Anyabwile, an African American pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, asks when handwringing commences about young people leaving US churches.

“Researchers describe millennials as a fairly privileged and special group, which is so far from the reality of so many African Americans,” said Anyabwile. “When it comes to describing broad demographic trends, you’re woefully in danger of building a profile based on the assumed normative experiences of majority culture.”

At large, millennials are less religious than were earlier generations of Americans. In 2012, Pew Research Center released data showing that 32 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are religiously unaffiliated. This was an 11 percent increase over any other age group that year, and a 7 percent jump from the 25 percent of young people who responded this way in 2007.

Yet a deeper dive into Pew’s study suggests whites are overrepresented among those who are not religiously affiliated. Anglos make up 66 percent of the US population, yet they compose 71 percent of those with no religious affiliation. In contrast, blacks make up 11 percent of the population but only 9 percent of the so-called “nones.”

Black Protestants have retained the greatest number of millennials compared with Catholics, white mainliners, and white evangelicals, according to 2012 data from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. These traditions have seen their market share of millennials drop by 8.4, 7.3, and 2.2 percentage points, respectively. In contrast, black Protestant millennials have decreased ...

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Interview: I’m a Christian. But I’ve Forgotten How to Belong to the Church.

A millennial diagnoses her generationís complicated relationship to the body of Christ.

Sometimes, to borrow a phrase, we long to be in the church but not of it. We love Christ, but the church is full of people—and problems—we'd rather avoid. In Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe, Erin Lane, a divinity school graduate and pastor’s wife, explores her difficulty (and that of her millennial generation) in feeling fully devoted to the body of Christ. Laura Turner, a contributor to Her.meneutics, talked with Lane, a program director at the Center for Courage & Renewal, about the paradox of belonging and the practices that help to sustain commitments to others.

Why is the concept of belonging so important for the church at this moment?

Sometimes the world can feel overwhelming, especially among the younger people of my generation. There’s a really deep need to find our place in it. We have so many options for connecting with one another and all this pressure to make the most of them. But it’s often the case that the institutions that used to broker these connections—institutions like the church—are losing their influence.

...

If not in the church, where are people today finding the experience of belonging?

There’s a huge desire to experience belonging in an embodied way. We search for shared interests, like exercise groups—Crossfit, yoga, and Pure Barre. A great deal of belonging is created over food culture and being connoisseurs of things like coffee or beer—for me, it’s cupcakes.

I worry, though, about whether we’re doing enough to interact with people who don’t inhabit our particular lifestyle enclaves. I don’t see many examples of rich involvement in public spaces that are open to strangers ...

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Duck Dynasty Wife: The More Christians on Reality TV, the Better

How unexpected fame and quirky family has helped Jessica Robertson share her faith.

Jessica Robertson belongs to a big, unusual family—evangelical Christians made famous by their popular duck-call company Duck Commander and the hit A&E series Duck Dynasty.

Since its premiere three years ago, the show has set cable reality TV records, attracting millions of viewers and hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing. Despite its recognizable, bushy-bearded stars (Phil Robertson and his goofy brother Uncle Si, plus sons Alan, Willie, Jase, and Jep), their supportive wives (matriarch “Miss Kay,” and Lisa, Korie, Missy, and Jessica) bring humor and heart to each episode.

Through the show, now in its seventh season, “we spend more time together, and those relationships have grown and deepened,” said Jessica, 34, who married the youngest Robertson son, Jep. Their family of six recently moved onto the same street as his three older brothers, in their northeast Louisiana hometown, West Monroe.

While many rant about meddling in-laws, Jessica raves about hers. She praises her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law for helping strengthen her marriage. And despite our skepticism over the fame and overexposure of reality TV, Jessica says the platform gave her the confidence to share her faith on a large scale.

Jessica and the fellow women of Duck Dynasty will speak at next month’s Heart to Home Conference, a women’s ministry and mentorship program they’ve been involved in through their church (a local Church of Christ congregation). She also recently completed a book with her husband about seeking God through struggles in marriage, The Good, the Bad, and the Grace of God (Thomas Nelson, June 2015).

Jessica talked to Her.meneutics editor Kate Shellnutt about what ...

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Why Your Millennial Outreach Needs a Bit of Bonhoeffer

Millennial anxiety sabotages attempts to engage the next generation. Dietrich explains why.

We are certainly concerned about millennials.

It began about the time this age cohort reached adulthood, with the 1999 publication of Saving the Millennial Generation: New Ways to Reach the Kids You Care About in These Uncertain Times. It accelerated when some polls in the mid-2000s began to suggest millennials’ waning interest in church. Enter “millennials and church” into a search engine, and soon enough you are pointed to sites that proclaim, “Ten reasons churches are not reaching millennials,” or, “Why millennials are leaving church.” The latter article quickly garnered some 100,000 page views not long ago.

This past October, the 2014 Alignment Conference featured Barna’s David Kinnaman and pastor and church planter Dave Ferguson talking about millennials, who present a “game changing moment” for the church. Gen2 Leadership Conference is meeting this month with the theme, “Fighting for the Heart of the Millennial Generation.”

We find ourselves facing into “millennial anxiety” as well as concern about the “rise of the nones” (those who do not identify with any religious tradition, a cohort that is apparently growing in the West). Like some reverse Paul Revere, many ride through the fiber optics of the Internet and into church basements shouting, “The millennials are leaving! Watch out for the rise of the nones!” Simply put, millennial anxiety—a concern shared by both mainline and evangelical churches—is the fear that those between ages 18 and 25 have little interest in the church, and that the church has failed to convince them to stay.

As a professor of youth ministry and theology, I suppose ...

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Should Pastors Stop Signing Civil Marriage Certificates?

First Things says yes. Survey finds 1 in 4 pastors agree.

In response to same-sex marriage, hundreds signed a pledge endorsed by First Things to separate civil and Christian marriage. LifeWay Research found that 1 in 4 pastors (and 1 in 3 Americans) support such a move.

Here’s how theologians and other experts answered the question. Answers are arranged on a spectrum from “yes” answers at the top to “no” answers at the bottom.

"For a long time, Christianity has sewn its teachings into the fabric of Western culture. That was a good thing. But the season of sewing is ending. Now is a time for rending, not for the sake of disengaging from culture or retreating from the public square, but so that our salt does not lose its savor."
~R. R. Reno, editor, First Things

"The pledge is a small gesture, but gestures provoke and can galvanize. It’s a bit of political theater, but theater can shatter complacency. Political theatrics must be preceded and followed by principled and strategic discussion, but effective political theater raises the stakes and intensifies debate."
~Peter Leithart, senior fellow, New St. Andrews College

"Not yet. We cannot so easily divorce Christian and civil marriage, because everyone has a compelling interest in legal, natural matrimony. It is a common grace. Every important measure of social thriving is driven by the prevalence of natural marriage in a community."
~Glenn T. Stanton, director of family formation studies, Focus on the Family

"Not yet. For now, by registering gospel-qualified unions as civil marriages and not officiating at unions that are not gospel-qualified, we call the government to its responsibility even as we call attention to its limits." ~Russell Moore, ...

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Water Is Weird

And its strange behaviors make life possible.

If someone were to stop you on the street and ask you to name, on the spot, a naturally occurring substance that epitomized ordinary—something entirely lacking in strangeness—there is high probability that you would eventually say “water.” You might note, as an aside, that it is a very important ordinary substance, essential to life and refreshing to the parched, but nothing about water strikes you as being particularly odd.

But you would be wrong. I mean, really, really wrong. The behavior of water, at least when compared to other natural materials, is a bit bizarre. In particular, there are at least five different properties of water that, if you were stumbling upon it for the first time, might strike you as strange.

Take, for instance, those ice cubes blissfully floating at the top of your iced tea. We think of this as quite normal until we test virtually every other substance known to man and find that a solid cube of copper or wax or rock each sinks straight to the bottom when dropped into a tub of its liquid form. In normal substances, the atoms of a cooling liquid tuck in closer together when solidifying into a solid. More atoms in a smaller space makes the solid denser than the liquid, such that solid forms sink. Unless you are water, of course, in which case the unique arrangement of molecules in ice actually expands the volume compared to the liquid form, and ice floats.

Then there is that transparency thing. We take it for granted that light passes through water, but what other naturally occurring substance can be collected into a fish tank and provide a clear view of everything inside? There are substances that are indeed transparent when isolated and melted, but we rarely find ...

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Tending the 'Stolen' Sheep in Latin America's Booming Bible Belt

Catholics may be fast converting to Protestantism, but beliefs and maturity vary.

For most of the past century, almost all (more than 90%) of Latin Americans were Catholics. But decades of attrition have resulted in a record 1 in 5 Latinos now identifying as Protestants.

Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua lead the way, where Protestants constitute 4 in 10 residents of each nation. But Protestants in those 3 countries diverge on many measures of orthodox belief and practice, according to a detailed survey of 19 Latin American countries and territories by the Pew Research Center.

Guatemala’s Protestants arguably seem the most mature. They are the most likely of all 19 surveyed groups to evangelize weekly (53%), to believe only Christ leads to eternal life (74%), and to exhibit high commitment (75% pray daily, attend services weekly, and consider faith very important). Even their millennials are the most religious (71% are highly committed).

Protestants in Nicaragua and Honduras are more varied. Only 1 in 3 share their faith on a weekly basis. About 6 in 10 are highly committed to church attendance and prayer. On Christianity’s exclusive access to eternal life, only two-thirds of Hondurans and half of Nicaraguans agree. And only 45 percent of Nicaragua’s millennials are highly committed to their faith.

Further, Honduran Protestants are among Latin America’s most syncretistic, with 42 percent exhibiting medium to high engagement with indigenous beliefs and practices (a figure that’s higher than Catholics in most Latin American countries). Nicaraguan Protestants exhibited similarly high levels (35%), but only 24 percent of Guatemalan Protestants are similarly syncretistic.

Demographics don’t explain the differences. On syncretism, for example, only 7 percent ...

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What Women Want: More Opportunities to Serve

Need Christians to help and lead at church? I know plenty.

Many have attributed American churches’ dwindling numbers to an “entitlement mentality,” saying that today’s Christians look to congregations to for a certain kind of fulfillment and leave when those needs aren’t being met.

But perhaps the trend is due to the very opposite—a servant mentality without a place to serve.

Christian women in particular likely resonate with this idea, given the number of educated and gifted women admitting that they feel underutilized at church or that they have to leave their leadership gifts outside. Though women tend to outnumber men in the pews, the leadership of our churches and ministries remains heavily male. As a researcher of Christian women and leadership, I’ve heard women say, “I feel invisible at church,” “There’s no room for me,” or “I feel useless.”

At Liberty University this week, speaker and author Christine Caine launched her new ministry initiative for working women, Propel. “We are hemorrhaging a generation of women,” she proclaimed during Monday’s convocation service. “Women are underutilized at church because their gifts are not recognized or respected…. So basically, some of these women can run Fortune 500 companies, but the most [they] can do at church is bake a casserole.”

In my case, even with seminary degrees and over a decade of teaching experience, I’ve struggled to get involved in church doing anything beyond nursery duty. My husband and I have moved nine times, and at each new church, when I offer up my theological background and teaching experience, it’s routinely ignored or turned down.

Yet, I know the other side of things, ...

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The Only Thing You Need to Teach Your Children

I will never be a perfect parent. And that's a good thing.

Recently I’ve been working on a talk called “Talking with your Children about What Matters Most.” I thought it would be easy to write, given that I’ve recently written a book with the subtitle “Learning from my Children about What Matters Most.” And yet the talk has been stubbornly resisting me. Or perhaps I have been stubbornly resisting it.

Either way, although I can offer some advice based upon nine years of raising children, and before that six years of working with high school students, at the end of the day I’m not a parenting expert. I haven’t taken tons of classes or read dozens of books or written a thesis or taught a class. The books I have read—Baby Whisperer back in the kid-won’t-sleep days, Boundaries for Kids in the can’t-take-no-for-an-answer days, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers in the throw-things-across-the-room-when-he-doesn’t-get-his-way days, Parenting the Wholehearted Child in the how-do-I-teach-them-about-God days—have all been helpful. And they’ve also (with the notable exception of Parenting the Wholehearted Child) left me feeling somewhat bewildered and defeated as a mom.

Yes, Penny slept through the night at seven weeks and I thought I was a sleep genius. Then William came along and cried the whole night through for nearly the first year of his life. Yes, I held the line and my first child had limited screen time and ate muenster cheese and avocado as a one-year old and learned sign language. And now her little sister demands time on the iPad and a lollipop and I cave. Often.

So what matters when it comes to our kids? Well, on some level, everything matters. Food and manners and faith and homework ...

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All Is Not Lost: Russia and Ukraine Can Be Healed

Churches are indispensible to lasting peace in the region.

Scholar Mark Elliot’s recent online article describes a Christian community fractured by war. In Ukraine and Russia, evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholics, and others have broken fellowship with each other. They are, in his words, “elevating loyalty to a fatherland over loyalty to God the Father”—that is, they are not striving for peace with everyone, but are allowing a “root of bitterness” to spring up and cause trouble.

This root is old and deep. Ukraine lies on a geopolitical, cultural, and religious fault line that goes back centuries, and even though the current crisis started for geopolitical reasons, religion plays a key supporting role. Since the beginning of the crisis last year, churches of every denomination have been drafted into the fight, with each side using biblical language to justify its actions and demonize the other. These churches provide a veneer of virtue and moral authority that the governments themselves could not muster.

It is precisely for this reason, however, that the churches of Russia and Ukraine will be indispensable to any lasting peace. A peace treaty, if it ever comes, might stop the fighting, but only the church can address the enmity, division, and brokenness caused by the war.

This won’t come naturally to most churches in Russia and Ukraine. Many priests and pastors see themselves as responsible for what happens within the four walls of their church—and nothing else. This deeply-embedded isolationism—a legacy of the Soviet period—makes it nearly impossible for the church to engage society during a time of crisis. As one Ukrainian pastor put it to me, “We see serving God as something we do only in our church. So when ...

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What Do I Get If I’m Good?

Raising moral kids in a culture of rewards.

Several weeks ago, as I wrestled my two-year-old into clothes, the weight of my charge as a parent hit me—somewhere between the second time putting his shirt on and the third time putting his pants on. As he ripped off his socks and threw them at the dog, I told him, “You need to listen to Mommy,” to which he replied “M&M?”

I told myself it was the potty training—that could be the only possible explanation for my toddler leveraging good behavior for candy. I gently explained that we do not behave well to be rewarded; we behave well because we should, because it’s right to do so. He nodded and whispered back “M&M please,” because he’s two, and, for the most part, incentivized morality is the only sort of morality he understands.

How will we as parents facilitate the divorce of incentive and morality in the minds of our kids? Many purport that a natural progression of cognitive skills will render him capable of morality. I am lulled to comfort by the logic in this; I feel assured of, if not a seamless transition, at least a naturally occurring one.

A paper published in Science last September reported on a survey aimed at gauging morality in a natural environment—all conducted via text messages, allowing participants to partake in the midst of their daily lives. The intent was to engage in applicable, realistic moral scenarios. Recipients of a good deed became more likely to commit a moral act later that day, whereas those who committed a moral act earlier in the day became more likely to commit an immoral act later. Even though researchers posit that the effect of this sort of contagion is minimal on the pursuit and achievement of morality, ...

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The Cathedral and the Movie Theater

They are spaces that teach us how to live.

When I was sixteen, my family attended a church that met in a movie theater. I sang worship songs, listened to sermons, and took communion in the same building where I had seen The Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Strangely, at the time I cared very little for movies, and even less for church. Then, after I graduated from high school, I began to fall in love with both the cinema and the cathedral.

It started as a love for the buildings themselves. I lived in New York City. Movie theaters of all shapes and sizes abound, and they intrigued me: the ten-story windows and mountainous elevators of the cinemas along Broadway, the velvety seats and old-fashioned curtain in the Paris Theatre near Central Park, the intimate poshness of the theaters at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Churches amazed me even more: the ornate stained glass of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the cozy, vine-entwined courtyard in front of 29th Street’s “Little Church Around the Corner,” the eccentric vastness of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

For the practicing Christian, church attendance is a vital part of life. Movie theater attendance may not be, for all of us. But I have recently been thinking about how our approach to movie-going can inform our approach to church-going, and vice versa, and for those of us who enter both buildings on a regular basis, I want to make a few connections.

The architecture of the church and the cinema may vary from place to place, but whether ornate or not, the structure of the buildings promise something lovely to come. We enter doors into a large, dimly-lit room. It is a hushed, open space. We sit side-by-side. We hear music. We hear carefully-chosen ...

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The Day I Became a Man

There is a time for lament, and a time for lament to cease. An excerpt from Peter's new book.

I hope you will bear with me as I share another edited excerpt from my book, Blindsided By God. And if you are interested in winning your own copy for free, you can enter this raffle being held by Goodreads!

After finding out that my wife’s breast cancer was not treatable with hormones and had spread to her lymph nodes, a recurring dream began to plague me nightly. In it, Carol would be lying motionless on a hospital bed, and it was never quite clear whether she was just sleeping or something worse. My daughters would then walk into the room and begin to weep, their little faces contorted with grief. It was then I knew that Carol was not asleep. She was dead. I would wake up at that moment with a gasp, and turn quickly in my bed to check on Carol. She was lying there, still but breathing, sleeping peacefully.

About the fourth or fifth time I had this dream, or some nightmarish variation of it, I turned to make sure that Carol was alright, and afterward began to weep, not in relief but in exhaustion. I couldn’t take it anymore, the fear, the uncertainty, the thought of losing my wife. Not wanting to wake Carol, I left our bed, went into the bathroom, and closed the door. But when my sobbing refused to subside, I went downstairs to the living room instead. Even that wasn’t enough. Eventually, my crying became so deep and uncontrollable that I had to go down into the basement so I could give voice to my trauma without traumatizing those I loved, a "three-story" kind of weeping.

But as I wept and mourned in the pitch blackness of my basement, something inside of me, a voice or a presence, maybe both, suddenly said,

“STOP CRYING.”

“STOP COMPLAINING.”

“THIS ...

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So Long New York: American Bible Society Heads to Philly

A year after putting its iconic building on the market, ABS exits the Big Apple after nearly two centuries.

After nearly 200 years in New York City, the American Bible Society (ABS) is departing for Philadelphia, one of an increasing number of religious institutions selling once iconic urban properties.

A 12-story building located blocks away from Central Park, ABS’ headquarters have also housed other evangelical ministries, including Q Ideas, Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work, the Museum of Biblical Art, and Young Life.

American Bible Society president and CEO Roy Peterson announced the move in a joint press conference with Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter on Wednesday morning. “On behalf of the City of Philadelphia, we’re honored to welcome American Bible Society to its new home,” Nutter said.

Peterson cited strategic collaboration opportunities, affordability and livability as reasons behind ABS’ relocation to downtown Philadelphia, though he called the decision to leave New York "heart-wrenching."

"People can afford to live here [in Philadelphia], it's walkable, there's public transportation," Peterson told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Our staff commutes an hour or two...from Long Island, the Bronx."

ABS also revealed plans to create a Bible Discovery Center, Scriptures Depository and scholarly working library in its new home, which will be located several blocks away from Independence Mall. The organization hopes to be fully moved in by the end of the summer, just ahead of Pope Francis' Philadelphia visit in September.

ABS hired Peterson, who formerly led The Seed Company and Wycliffe USA, as its new CEO last January. In March, ABS broke the news that it would be selling its Upper West Side property after ...

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