The Millennial Experience in the Black Church: A Mixed Methods Study on Communicating Religious and Racial/Ethnic Identity

Ashley C. Thomas

Major Professor: Mark C Hopson, PhD, African and African American Studies Program

Committee Members: Timothy A. Gibson, Katherine Rowan

The Hub (SUB II), #VIP 2
April 17, 2017, 11:30 AM to 09:30 AM



Millennials are less affiliated with Christianity compared to older generations. However, historically Black Protestant denominations have experienced an overall stable attendance during recent years, especially in comparison to mainline Protestantism which has experienced the greatest decline in membership among Christian groups (Pew Research Center, 2015). This study explores why Black Millennials in the United States choose to attend predominantly Black congregations.

The study’s research design employs a concurrent qualitative-dominant mixed method design in which quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis occur simultaneously (Creswell, 2007). The qualitative research applied Hecht's (1993) communication theory of identity and a phenomenological analysis of twenty-four in-depth interviews that were conducted between October 2016 and February 2017 with congregants of predominantly Black churches in Alabama. The quantitative research consisted of a survey based on the Multi-Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM) and the Multi-Religion Identity Measure (MRIM) to understand differences in levels of religious and racial/ethnic identity relevant to respondents' church attendance. The survey was conducted between January and March 2017 and open to Black Millennials in southern states, regardless of religious preference or church attendance.

Survey results revealed that those who attend church (whether predominantly Black or non-Black) are higher in religious identity than those who do not attend. No differences exist for levels of ethnic identity based on church racial/ethnic composition or attendance. This finding coincides with interview results that revealed that participants do not see themselves as a part of the collective body of Black churches and do not attend predominantly Black churches based on race/ethnicity. Rather than abandon organized religion for individualistic spirituality, participants attempt to reshape their spirituality in terms of an “authentic” experience of community in the Body of Christ (without a focus on dogma, dress, status, race, etc.). Sound doctrine, relevant sermons, a “Christ first” approach, and genuine relationships with older generations help Millennials to enact their religious identities in a way that Giddens (1991) views as "being true to oneself" (p. 78).