Church Attendance May Be Down, But This Minister Sees A Lot Of Faith


Serving those on the fringes of the church – or society – is not as complicated as it is sometimes claimed. As the statistics rage proclaiming that young people and people of color are exodusing mass from the church, I believe Americans are engaging God in beautiful and radical ways.

I see evidence of this faith in accepting music with religious themes on secular radio. I hear it in prayers before street football games and deep theological conversations at barber shops.

Why we wrote this

Statistics show a decline in the number of church members in the black community. But this minister sees a lot of faith – if you know how to recognize it.

Who can really relate to a Creator who lives in the far sky?

Instead, I turn to culture for some kind of love language to communicate about God who does not hover over people but exists inside of them. Whether it’s sports, music, movies, comics, or just the ministry of laughter, I seek to make God accessible, like a friend.

These same points of contact were important to Jesus.

Homeless, dark-haired Palestinian Jew who occasionally drank with people he shouldn’t even have sat with, according to the religious mores of the time, Jesus believed in the love of God and following the rule of gold – don’t judge people.

People – especially young people – know us through our love.

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The young woman entered the church and stood in the hall outside the sanctuary. She looked nervous and out of place. One of the ushers approached me and patted me, saying, “Minister Nicole, can you talk to this young woman? She, all 21 or 22, was shaking and couldn’t look me in the eye. She was scared, and although she didn’t say it right away, she didn’t think she belonged.

We sat down together and started talking. I took her hand, smiled and pushed her bangs back. We prayed, then she said, “I have a pimp and he’s looking for me.

My chest sagged, but not because she was a sex worker. I was hit because she could have been my child. Within an hour, we were able to feed her, put her in touch with a counselor and provide her with a place to spend the night. I asked her to sit right there while I organized a ride for her.

Why we wrote this

Statistics show a decline in the number of church members in the black community. But this minister sees a lot of faith – if you know how to recognize it.

But when I came back, she was gone.

As a new ministerial staff member, I thought I had failed – that she didn’t trust me or that I had missed something. Then the same usher who had typed me earlier approached me. “She told me to say ‘thank you’, but her ‘daddy’ was waiting for her,” the bailiff said.

“Papa” is the street term for a pimp. Somehow he had found her and had come looking for her.

I never saw her again, but I was happy to have at least been able to share with her that Jesus sees her and loves her, and that there is nothing that she has ever done that is too much. down for God to lift him up.

Serving those on the fringes of the church – or society – is not as complicated as it is sometimes claimed. As the statistics rage proclaiming that young people and people of color are exodusing mass from the church, I believe Americans are engaging God in beautiful and radical ways.

See the faith all around us

According to the Pew Research Center, the ranks of people with no religious affiliation – atheists, agnostics and those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” – have risen from 17% to 26% of adults in the United States since 2009. There is a similar trend among Black americans, of which 21% have no religious affiliation. Of these, the majority are younger: 28% are Gen Z and 33% are Millennials. Only 11% are baby boomers.

But identifying with a religion is different from having faith. Pew discovered that among black Americans with no religious affiliation, 9 out of 10 believe in God or a higher power.

Courtesy of Reverend Nicole Duncan-Smith

Reverend Nicole Duncan-Smith spends time with the children of St. Paul’s Baptist Community Church on Church Family Day in the Park.

I see evidence of this faith in accepting music with religious themes on secular radio. I find it to hear rap lyrics from kids on the street of Kanye West and Chance the Rapper uplifting the Lord. I spot it in the frozen Jesus jewelry which seems garish to some, but those who wear it believe that the image of Christ on their chest is protecting them. I hear it in prayers before street football games and deep theological conversations in barber shops.

Many people want to enter into conversation intellectually, creatively and culturally with the Judeo-Christian idea of ​​God, but are their new approaches appreciated by the church?

Unfortunately no. For far too many members of the clergy and congregations, theology is (a) rooted in hierarchy, (b) built on silos of shame, and (c) more invested in the institutions of the church than in the liberating principles of ” the way “.

Being connected to an organized assembly of believers has glorious benefits. But these three theological threads are often so woven into the fabric of a congregation that people have no idea that this dynamic is at play – or that they are unattractive to those outside the church and can even push them to a life of sin.

An Afro-centered ministry

Prior to the isolation of the pandemic, I served in person at St. Paul Community Baptist Church (SPCBC), a thriving multigenerational African-American congregation in the New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. (Just last month, we finally started worshiping in person again.) Our members range from full-time workers to those who are usually unemployed. We have PhDs, MBAs, and people once known by a prison ID number. We have spirited seniors and a thriving youth culture.

Over the past 10 years, four of the young adults in our church have appeared (separately) on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and we’re always looking for new ways to make meaningful connections with our Millennials and Millennials. Generation Z.

One way we have been doing this for almost 30 years is by sharing the presence of God and the redemptive touch of Jesus through the Afro-centric lens of our MAAFA ministry. Maafa, a Swahili word, means great devastation, catastrophe or tragedy. Popularized by Marimba Ani in his book “Let the Circle Be Unbroken”, maafa is used to describe the enslavement of Africans and the intermediate passage journey that transported them to the Americas for the sole purpose of exploiting them.

Each September we stop for a week to pay homage to our ancestors who sacrificed their lives in one of humanity’s most inhumane acts. We also marvel at how God has supported us through many generations since then.

Make the church “beautiful”

Sharing about Jesus shouldn’t be boring – especially if you present the Most High as abiding in you, like the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. Who can really relate to a Creator who lives in the far sky?

Instead, I turn to culture for some kind of love language to communicate about God who does not hover over people but exists inside of them. Whether it’s sports, music, movies, comics, or just the ministry of laughter, I seek to make God accessible, like a friend.

These same points of contact were important to Jesus.

A homeless, brunette, Palestinian Jew, who occasionally eaten and drunk with people with whom he should not even have sat down, according to the religious customs of the time, Jesus believed he loved God and following the golden rule – do not judge people and manipulate them into spiritual submission with promises of fire and brimstone from hell.

This is not to say that condemnation of sin and its consequences should not be part of the ministerial conversation.

But people – young people, especially – know us by our love. At SPCBC, we just try to like them. We welcome them and are ready to plant the seed with love.

After this young woman left with her “daddy” years ago, the usher reassured me: “Young preacher, you saved her life by sharing your Christ with her. Even if you couldn’t save her today, she knows she can come back. You made the church beautiful.

I hope I planted a seed with love.

Reverend Nicole Duncan-Smith is a journalist, hip-hop enthusiast, wife, mother, preacher and cool kid in every way.


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