Tech Innovations in D.C. Black Churches Help Make New Disciples

Nikki Diefenbach

According to an article by Henrietta Holiday in The Washington Post, young people are changing the face of some historically Black churches in D.C. The churches that have been willing to find ways to engage them through technology are flourishing because of it. Combined with the strong history of activism in historically Black churches, millennials and post-millennials are finding a welcoming community within their walls as well as online.

Some pastors are asking parishioners to tweet and hashtag portions of their sermons. At the forefront is New Bethel Baptist Church, which has grown from 300 to 1300 members over the last few years. During collection, most parishioners give using CashApp, a mobile app that sends money directly to the church. When the pastor asks congregants to open up their bibles, the majority will use a Bible app. Free rides to and from New Bethel are offered through Lyft and Uber.

Meeting the needs of younger people also means changing methods of discipleship. A member of Reid Temple says she appreciates that her pastor will text her Bible verses for encouragement. At New Bethel’s Bible study on Wednesday night, the vast majority of the over 700 students attend via Facebook Livestream, where they can comment and share links relevant to the study in realtime.

Another essential aspect of historically Black churches in the District is their social and civil activism. In Holiday’s article, she interviews Rev. Dexter Nutall at New Bethel. He says that “Historically black churches were created because there wasn’t a place for black people at white churches. The millennials are very curious about God. They’re looking for community and real meaningful expressions of faith that transcend the sanctuary.” After white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Nutall held town halls, providing the model for what it means to speak out against injustice.

The Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in the District has been arrested for civil disobedience during a prayer protest against Ohio’s voter-purge law outside the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 2017 interview, the Rev. Lamar stated that there are Christians today who engage in “theological malpractice” and that
“The faith community must be about the work of sociopolitical transformation in the here and now.”

Although this activism should appeal to everyone, it is younger people who seem to be leading the way in their search for an authentic worshiping community that incorporates technology and lives into their faith in Jesus Christ. It is the churches that meet this need who will be most effective in Jesus’ call to make disciples and work towards bringing God’s kingdom on Earth.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. What do you think worship will look like fifty years from now?

Q2. When looking at what works in creating a Spirit-filled community in some of the historically Black churches of D.C., what would you like to see incorporated into your own church?

Q3. Jesus said that the reign of God is now, not tomorrow (Luke 17:20–21). What can you do today to cocreate this reality in anticipation of its fulfillment?