As the number of youths attending houses of worship in the U.S. dwindles, many faith communities are figuring out how to reach out to the next generation. But a church in northwest D.C. has proven that with creativity, strategy and technology, it can get millennials to show up on Sunday mornings.
New Bethel Baptist Church, located on 9th and S streets, has increased its social media presence to connect with young people in their prayer life and community outreach. They are using it to engaged people in their spiritual teachings, promote their church activities and highlight their community service initiatives.
Kennisha Rainge, the young adult minister for New Bethel, joined the church six years ago after randomly viewing a post on social media extolling the church’s service. Initially, she encountered more older congregants, but she connected with them as she did with the parishioners at her church in Florida.
“We have prayer on Facebook Live!” she said of New Bethel.
Rainge said New Bethel organizes a morning prayer on Facebook Live weekdays at 6:15 a.m. to connect with the community. It started with about 30 to 40 participants, but has since grown to connect individuals, young and old, across the country and the world.
The church staff estimates nearly 1,300 people are members at New Bethel. More than 60 percent are younger than 40, largely made up of students at nearby Howard University and young professionals in the 18-35 age range. Recently, 30 young people joined the church after service.
The young adults are involved and leading the church’s community service projects, such as providing food and feminine products for people in need. They also partner with local nonprofit organizations and schools during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Tevera Stith is the leader of New Bethel’s God’s Zone Ministry, known as G-Zone, which focuses on youth education. The age groups range from young members in grade school to 18-year-olds.
Stith, who came to the church after visiting others in the Shaw neighborhood and in Maryland, said the two things that sold her on New Bethel were the hospitality of the congregation and the biblical preaching and teaching of the pastor.
She also likes that when she goes to Bible study, there is a mixture of young and old present.
“What I love is the intergenerational look of our Bible study,” she said.
Rev. Dexter Nutall, the senior pastor at New Bethel, grew up in the church and seen its movement of young adult ministry engagement and it how it works. He mentioned that his effort wasn’t necessarily to target millennials.
“I just believe that the Gospel is relevant and when you present it in a way and live your life in a way that is consistent,” he said. “And prioritizes the things that the Gospel prioritizes and Christ prioritizes. Then it’s a natural result that people are drawn to it.”
Nutall referenced their core values using the verses from the Book of Acts which are posted in the church lobby. Social media is used a tool that allows access to a cross-section of people for little to no cost.
“My question hasn’t been how [to] get to millennials, my question has been, how do I present a whole full Gospel?” he said.