Ed: How would you describe the state of Christianity and the church among emerging adults—18 to 29-year-olds—today? What are their biggest questions, concerns, or motivations?
Brianna: It is an exciting time in the church and Christianity for emerging adults. It’s not an easy time, but it’s exciting. The church has, far too often, been bandwagoners who have followed trends as opposed to blazing cultural trails. I’m hoping to see believers begin to invest in the work of entrepreneurs who want to lead and trail blaze in the tech world.
It’s also exciting because we are engaging millennials with unprecedented courage to help us to lead from their lens. The biggest faith question is “why?”. Why does my faith walk matter? Why can’t my relationship with God look different than others in the past? Why can’t I engage God and others in new ways?
I believe the biggest concern is authenticity. This is difficult for many to hear because it shines a light on the dusty corners of our closets, showing the parts we did not expect to be unveiled.
Millennials are motivated by the unknown; they plunge into mystery and paradoxes. The lack of limits and ceiling breakers are motivating and will benefit the kingdom.
Ed: You founded Black Millennial Café in part because you saw a glaring need for substantive research on the religious lives of African-American millennials. Talk a little about how your research meets this need. What are the pressing questions or challenges that are shaping African American millennial faith and relationship to the church?
Brianna: My research allows African-American communities, organizations, and churches, along with those interested in healthy millennial engagement, the opportunity to stop “shooting in the dark” and aim with precision.
Although it is difficult in the early stages, my existing research and the research to come will continue to allow us to understand who we are as a valuable demographic as opposed to a forgotten subgroup.
African-Americans have to take general statistics that may or may not have surveyed their community and assume to know or perform an amateur survey on their communities for a better understanding, although they have to invest the same amount of resources as white communities who most information targeted.
The pressing questions shaping African-American millennial faith and relationship to the church are issues of injustice. It is unacceptable to watch or subscribe to a faith that continues to marginalize African Americans, ignore our plight, and preach equality with no repentance or plan for repair and equity.
I encourage organizations to not fool themselves with the notion of silent support. Instead, I encourage them to clearly identify their alliances and perspective on issues of injustice. Not to wait until they are asked but to offer support for those who are they are in alliance with and making clear discontinuation of relationships with those who are the enemy of their ethics. Mobilization of Black millennials is steeped in reality.
Faith organizations cannot divorce the realities of life to dream in the sanctuary via the sermonic moment.
Ed: When you work with churches and ministries through Black Millennial Café, what are a couple practical steps you suggest they take in their communities or organizations to respond?
Brianna: When I work with churches and organizations via Black Millennial Café, I begin by suggesting they allow me to take an unbiased look at the systems and structures of the organization that may counter the work they are doing to engage millennials.
I encourage them to look at the leadership and composition of the organization to assess their perspectives and abilities based on their profile. It is important that an organization is aware when the composition of their organization counters their desire for healthy millennial engagement.
Additionally, we look at messaging to assess the mirrored effect of their words and images in comparison to their beliefs.
Ed: How is your presentation at the Mission and Ministry Conference going to address this? What is your hope for the conference more broadly?
Brianna: My presentation will address these concerns head on as I am clear that it is my responsibility to tell a rarely heard truth of data discrimination. I also realize my voice is necessary to the conversation of the future of the faith, not to predict the future but to help shape the brilliant future that millennials deserve and desire.
Most broadly, I hope that people leave with more than an understanding of a variety of issues but leave with the passion to change the necessary, ignored concerns that should be priorities for faith groups in this contemporary world. I pray they leave empowered to empower millennials to lead and create in ways that may not have been previously valued.