Like their white counterparts, African-American Generation Xers are tending to merge “innovation and traditionalism” in their search for spiritual connections, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper (Jan. 1).
Like the black baby boomers preceding them, Gen Xers show loose attachments to denominational labels and some of the other traditions of the black church and value spiritual experience over doctrine [see February `96 RW]. While much of this trend is based on anecdotal evidence, surveys also suggest a new mobility and consumeristic attitudes among younger blacks. One study finds that surveys conducted between 1973 and 1980 on more than 30,000 blacks showed that fewer than one percent considered themselves non-denominational. By 1996, the same study showed the percentage had doubled.
There is also an increase in the numbers of African-Americans worshipping in conservative churches — such as Church of God in Christ and other Holiness churches — and a decline in the older Methodist and Baptist bodies. Black Gen Xers often complain that the black churches are too family-focused and do not arrange activities to meet their busy schedules. Vanderbilt University’s Renita Weems says the “younger folk are more interested in teaching than in preaching” and desire practical and spiritual resources for managing their finances and building positive relationships.
The traditional black congregations are losing out to those presenting contemporary music–such as Gospel rap–as well as leaders with intense but non-sectarian spirituality. Dallas pastor T. D. Jakes’ “psycho-social-spiritual texts” are bestsellers and Juanita Byrum, whose tapes and videos showcase a style full of Pentecostal emotionalism, has a broad, crossover appeal.