By Dominique A. Robinson, Staff Associate for Contextual Education
As mentioned in Preach This, Tweet That (Part I), Black Millennials find themselves in a peculiar socio-cultural predicament that renders them spiritually disjointed. Black youth have been suffering from a fatal prognosis for many decades and the iHomiletic is a recommended prescription for realigning Black youth and young adults with the Black Church.
The iHomiletic is an interdisciplinary approach to preparing, delivering and receiving feedback for/to one’s sermon. Like prophetic or narrative preaching, it is not for every preacher. It is a technique to be employed by preachers who seek to reach the 21st century generation. This technique of preaching reiterates and expands on the traditional tenets of Black preaching. What makes it different is its intentional use of social media linguistics, the succinct delivery, and opportunity for interactive feedback. Of course the iHomiletic can be employed by preachers and for millennials who are not Black but I specifically contend that it is a preaching practice that can and will serve the Black Church well in reconnecting its youth and young adults to what is, or used to be considered, the center of the Black community.
Interactive preaching actually isn’t new. Many traditional Black Churches have long invited congregational participation in the preaching moment through the unique musicality of call and response (though let’s be clear: the diversity of liturgy among people of African descent resists generalization). This participatory element might partly explain why African American young adults are not departing from the church as much as their white counterparts; there is something about the Black tradition of preaching and worship that breeds a space of comfort and safety. Research has shown that African Americans attend church more than their counterparts, believe in God (the one described in the Bible) and that Jesus did in fact die and was resurrected, believe Christianity can have a positive impact on society, and claim that believing in Jesus Christ has an influence on how they live their lives. Blacks of all ages are more likely to maintain their religious affiliations than whites, and Black Millennials make up 24% of Historical Black Churches.
However, Black Millennials believe more than their counterparts that the Church is full of hypocrites and that their lifestyles would not be acceptable to the Church. Black Millennials remain members of their churches because the Church still offers safe space for them just to be; their Blackness is accepted and celebrated; and the Black Church, where gatherings such as weddings, baptisms, funerals and family reunions are hosted, is still the center for the Black family unit. It is my contention then that most Black Millennials are remaining involved with the Black Church because of familial ties and socio-cultural freedom rather than a spiritually meaningful identification with their communities of faith. This is very different than the generations before them; the congregants of the past viewed the Black Church as their socio-cultural, economic, political and spiritual refuge, as seen during the Civil Rights Movement.
The Black Church used to be the center of the Black community for all ages but that has changed for Black Millennials. This is where I believe the disgruntled-ness of the churched, hostile Black Millennials lie. And this is who I believe Black Churches need to try to reclaim and retain through their preaching ministries. I would ascribe that many Black Millennials’ apathy and disconnection from the Church is directly related to the preaching. Therefore if the preaching, which is generally viewed as the heart of the Black Church and religiosity, became relevant to Black Millennials again, their connection to their churches would be spiritually motivated rather than reduced to a socio-cultural obligation.
Young adults feel no differently about the use of technology in and for church than they do about its use in classrooms and other settings. How can a preacher make use of social media platforms to connect with her youth and young adults in the preparation, delivery and feedback of her sermon? Here is a starting list of suggestions to assist preachers in making effective use of social media linguistics and technology in and for the preaching moment, foundational components to an iHomily™.
- Be transparent and authentically you.
- Capture your congregants’ attention within the first three minutes of your sermon; the title may be helpful for this.
- Consider including question-and-answer time after the sermon. Invite congregants to write questions on pieces of paper, later to be collected and handed to the preacher or designate a text parishioner who is responsible for receiving the questions/comments about the sermon while it is being preached. Or set up a Twitter account and invite congregants to tweet questions during the sermon. Or take the bold route and simply open the floor to questions, comments and sermon talk-back after preaching. This will allow congregants to feel like they are a part of the creative process of sermon development and keep them engaged during the preaching moment. You’ll discover that congregants will listen more intently knowing they will have an opportunity to ask questions; this becomes a great exercise for distinguishing between hearing and listening to the sermon.
- Organize small groups for reflection and conversation either before the sermon is preached (giving them a chance to participate in the creative process) or after. Post the sermon topic in advance on social media accounts inviting feedback. This will allow for the sermon’s preached impact to continue after worship has concluded.
- Breakdown a sermon into several 140-character quotes. This engages the Google generation who may never attend a worship experience but desire to engage from wherever they are. It allows those who experience your sermon to summarize it in a way that is helpful for follow up. You can also schedule your tweets to be tweeted during the sermon and invite congregants to retweet (share) the posts. Use tools like BufferApp, HootSuite or TweetDeck to schedule tweets in advance.
- Create a Twitter hashtag (e.g., #Easter) for a sermon or special worship occasion and invite people to follow and use it. This allows people throughout the world to easily access tweets about your sermon or worship experience by finding it on their Twitter Discovery page.
- Incorporate current events into the liturgical season(s). Consider using what is trending to highlight the work of God in a particular Bible passage or incorporate current events with what is to be considered traditional during a liturgical season. For example please see the “Last Sayings of Christ” worship experience held at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA where student preachers made parallels between the last sayings of Christ and the last sayings of seven young unarmed Blacks killed unjustly by police officers; this was done during Holy Week 2015. This speaks directly to what’s on Black Millennials minds.
- Include a link to an online Bible text when posting the sermon title on social media accounts. This improves the accessibility and ease of reaching Millennials in their virtual community; they will not have to go to another platform to follow the scripture for the sermon.
- Don’t be dismayed when young adults’ heads are down while you are preaching; this is the new posture of the tech-savvy young adult. Oftentimes a preacher can gauge the mood of the congregation based on parishioners’ posture and facial expressions; looking at the top of heads can be disheartening.
- Become accustomed to listeners’ ability to quickly share and verify what has been said. This should be great motivation to be sure that you present theologically sound and culturally relevant material since you do not know the distance of your sermon’s virtual reach. But dear Black preacher, please also recognize that the Black millennials’ poise for call and response has shifted from the standard completing your sentence or saying, “Amen.” Instead you must find comfort in the crowd of tablets and screens staring back at you during the frenzy.
As a church, we can learn from traditions such as call and response or collective prayer, as we align our worship with our theology and technology. The iHomily allows for the congregant to play an active role in the development and articulation of the sermon; it also impresses listeners to re-engage society from a hopeful perspective. Learning how to make use of social media linguistics for the purpose of reaching a disassociated generation is just what the forefathers of the church mandated. “A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify … To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill.” What are you willing to preach, tweet, post and share to fulfill your call to serve this present age?
Dominique A. Robinson is an ordained Elder in the AME Zion Church. She is also on staff at New Life Presbyterian Church and Columbia Theological Seminary.
Explore this topic further! Join the Center for Lifelong Learning from 2/16-2/18/2016 as MaryAnn McKibben Dana leads Spirituality in the Smartphone Age. This workshop will give participants a theological grounding to navigate the joys and perils of this continually-evolving digital age, and practical wisdom to apply in the context of their ministry settings. This program is for pastors, Christian educators, and other church leaders charged with helping congregations think critically and live faithfully as 21st century followers of Jesus. Details and Registration here.
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 Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes, Lost and Found: the Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2009), 22 and 28.
 Bryan T. Calvin, “Why Aren’t Black Millennials Leaving the Church?” RELEVANT, August 21, 2013, 1, accessed November 8, 2013, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/why-aren%E2%80%99t-black-millennials-leaving-church.
 Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes, Lost and Found: the Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2009), 33.
 Bryan T. Calvin, “Why Aren’t Black Millennials Leaving the Church?” RELEVANT, August 21, 2013, 1, accessed November 8, 201, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/why-aren%E2%80%99t-black-millennials-leaving-church.
 Bruce Reyes-Chow “The Definitive-ish Bootcamp for Using Social Media in the Church” (lecture, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA, April 11, 2015).