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Black millennial churchgoers combat religious declines

Study finds that religion is losing popularity among millennials, making black millennials the most religious of their age group


ASU sophomore TaMeia Murphy shares her favorite bible verse at Raising Canes in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018.

Some churchgoers throw their hands in the air as they sing along with the choir, others their hands folded tightly in prayer. For some, religion is a place to find a community with shared values, others find their community elsewhere. 

According to a Pew Research Center study, one-in-four millennials are unaffiliated with a specific religion and twice as unaffiliated as the Baby Boomer generation was in their early adulthood. 

According to another study, black millennials are less likely to go to church than their parents, but they are significantly more likely to go than non-black millenials. 

Surveys showed that about 61 percent of black millennials say that they pray every day, a stark difference from the 39 percent of their non-black counterparts.  

With religion waning for millennials, recent studies suggest Generation Z, people born after 1999, has produced an even more atheist generation. 

TaMeia Murphy, a sophomore studying journalism, has grown up with a large emphasis on religion since childhood and said that for her, Christianity is fundamental. 

“I believe that I am here because of Christianity," Murphy said.

When she was a baby her mother died in a car accident and she said it is a big part of her religious identity. 

"When I talk to people who knew her, it’s irrefutable to me that there’s a divine purpose,” Murphy said. “For example, she had frozen enough breastmilk to last me until I was eating solid foods; there was even extra that had to be donated. How she had known to do that is beyond me."

Murphy said that times of civil unrest lead people to faith, which she said could explain the higher numbers of black millennials coming to church. 

For Brittany Woods, a deacon and photographer of the Covenant City Church, which was recently renamed from World of Abundant Life Christian Center, religion is a key part of her life.

Woods said she had seen many people her age leave the church at 18 but said that an increase of social media could be a driving force in keeping black millennials with their religion. 

As a black millennial herself, Woods found that engaging in the church at the college age was easier when she surrounded herself with people who were also involved. After her first year at California State University Stanislaus, she briefly disconnected from her faith only to find it again through social activity. 

“I wish I would have heard this in college, but join (religious) clubs," Woods said. "When I went back after a summer I saw so many opportunities to meet up with people of similar beliefs."

Though religion is on the decline for millennials and Generation Z, questioning one’s religion is something that many people of all ages have experienced.

According to Brett Williamson, the director of discipleship and small groups for Dream City Church and previous youth pastor for ASU religious group Chi Alpha, college especially can serve as a time for rebellion and religious questioning. 

As a high school student, Williamson found himself questioning his faith when he encountered tough questions that went unanswered. 

“I had to do a lot of searching, as do many people in similar positions. It’s the same questions everyone asks themselves, ‘How do I know I’m right, how do I know the way I was raised was right?’ Something I thought was extremely valuable was searching and having an honest exploration of faith,” Williamson said. 

Though religion is on the decline, many find comfort in taking part in it. 

“It’s still a difficult time to be a black person, religion is a coping mechanism," Murphy said. "For me, I choose Christianity because it’s easier than believing in nothing.” 

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