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'I Haven’t Given Up': Why Programs Targeted At Young Adults Are So Important In The Black Church

A Black girl sits on a church pew, staring out into the stained glass windows at the back of her church.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA
Jordan Shaw, 19, poses for a photo on a pew at Saint Luke Community Methodist Church in Dallas, the church she grew up in, on Feb. 6, 2021.

Two young women share their experiences at traditional Black churches and why they still attend or chose to leave their church.

A study in 2019 showed young adults ages 18-22 are leaving church in increasingly large numbers.

Keturah Brown, 18, used to attend Shiloh Baptist Church in Terrell, Texas, before her mother moved their family to Houston.

“The four years without church felt like I was missing stability,” Brown said. “I yearned to be in choir, or participate in youth day.”

Brown is the granddaughter of a pastor, and said Shiloh was all she knew.

Keturah Brown looks away while in a sea of green shrubs, at the Dallas Arboretum.
Keren Carrión
Keturah Brown at the Dallas Arboretum.

When Brown graduated from high school, she made the move back to Dallas and now attends Southern Methodist University. The first thing she did when she moved back was attend her home church on Sunday, but it wasn’t the experience she had remembered.

“The first Sunday I came back, they forced the microphone on me,” and Brown told them she didn’t want to participate. “As a young adult now, the congregation led me to look for other churches,” Brown said.

Illustration that imitates stained glass with Black figures standing outside a small church.
Celebrating The Black Church In North Texas
KERA is exploring the impact and legacy of Black churches on life in North Texas.

The mostly elderly congregation didn’t allow her to feel represented or heard at her church. The lack of young people involved in the church was a big factor in Brown’s decision to look for other alternatives.

“I feel like Shiloh Baptist Church is no longer the church for me,” she said. “So, I left my home church.”

Brown said she felt the church lacked initiation for younger people. “If a Bible verse is the only answer you can give me, I need more than that,” she said.

Jordan Shaw, 19, a sophomore at Prairie View A&M, has attended St. Luke Community Methodist Church in Dallas all her life.

Jordan Shaw smiles for a photo outside the beige church with a cross in the background.
Keren Carrión
Jordan Shaw has attended Saint Luke Community Methodist Church all her life.

“My experience at church was very nice,” Shaw said. “I stayed in the church because of the songs and the Word, it helped me feel closer to God actually, physically being there.”

Shaw said St. Luke involves younger people and would host youth church programs and college days during the holidays and the summer when the college kids came back.

“They do have several things that they do for us that keep us coming back,” Shaw said.

Although Shaw attended school 3 1/2 hours away, she said looking for a new church was really difficult and none felt like the home she had at St. Luke’s.

“It was like a family vibe because I grew up in this church,” Shaw said. “They’re always praying for me. I love the community.”

Despite her positive experience, Shaw said many other young adults often only attend church for their parents, not for themselves, and make the decision to leave.

Reverend Briana K. Parker, CEO of Black Millennial Cafe, a research, polling and consulting firm, has focused all of her doctoral research on Black millennials and faith.

Her research suggests that the programming for children during their stages of development is what people appreciated most about the Black church.

“We also got to see that it deeply fell off by college age,” Parker said.

The programming that is a key piece of what allows adults to stay with the Black church, is also a key piece of what causes young adults to fall off, or become less active. “I think churches, especially Black churches, have undervalued the benefit of relevant programming,” she said.

Most times, young adults leave church for the exploration and self-discovery that often happens during their college-aged years. Many discover spirituality at that stage.

Keturah Brown lays down in purple flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, in a pink striped shirt.
Keren Carrión
Keturah Brown, 18, poses for a photo at the Dallas Arboretum, on Feb. 9, 2021.

Brown said she wants to get into meditating, and learning about chakras. But she said she felt those progressive ways of thinking are not accepted in the church.

“I haven’t given up on the church yet,” Brown said. “But sometimes their intentions end up pushing us away from Jesus Christ.”

“Emerging generations are looking for a spiritual experience, and when they don’t get it in one place, they look for it in others,” Parker said. “I just don’t think it fits neatly in Black Christian church.”

Keren Carrión is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Keren at Kcarrion@kera.org. You can follow Keren on Twitter @kerencarrion8.

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