The hip-hop generation has developed outside of the church and is demanding new methodologies of ministry to make the gospel audible to a new generation.
Since 1965, mainline Christian denominations have been in decline, as have traditional black churches. The heyday of mainline black churches was 1955-1975, when even the unchurched in the black community were aware of the language, values and shared stories presented within the framework of the faith community.
After the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the rise of the black power movement, the decline of the working class and the integration of the black middle class, vibrant black churches begin to decline.
The methodologies of the past will not serve the hip-hop generation. The church must come to grips with the changing ministry, and the unchanging message of Christ.
Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the brilliant preacher and theologian, states that "preaching must use different methodologies but maintain the same message."
The song Amazing Grace can be recorded on a 45, 78, LP, eight-track, cassette, CD, CD-ROM or DVD. The message does not change, but the method of delivery changes.
Many churches are using 45s and eight-tracks in a world of CDs and DVDs. If we expand the analogy, 45s are not designed for portability or creativity. The hi-fi system is stationary and forces the user to bring music to the system. Many mainline churches expect people to just show up at church because we are historic (that is, old) Baptist, Methodist, AME, COGIC or Holiness.
The CD and DVD can be carried to any location to provide music. The 21st-century church must be mobile and creative and provide ministry beyond the stationary walls of the church to reach this generation.
This requires the church to move beyond biological evangelism - birthing children into the church - to evangelizing a new generation. This will require the development of new preaching styles that attempt to bridge the hip-hop generational gap by not assuming biblical literacy or an understanding of faith-centered rhetoric or wisdom.
When we preach to this new generation we must become students of modern culture. Our messages must engage the issues of sex, violence, racism, sexism, drugs, relationships, domestic violence and frame these issues with the love and teachings of Christ.
Let's be honest: Most people younger than 30 do not want to listen to "old school preachers" because many preachers are irrelevant, condemning, ignorant of current culture and have lost their ability to communicate effectively across generational lines. The hip-hop generation is waiting for pastors, churches and ministries that will "keep it real and make it plain."
A church that refuses to engage these critical issues will find itself with a declining congregation of primarily seniors.
The post-soul era is one of mega-churches with no elders and traditional churches devoid of children and youth. A church with no elders is unable to transmit our ancestors' wisdom, and a church with no youth is unable to live out the great commission.
The church, and particularly the clergy, must embrace these changes. Without a new vision and analysis of our condition, our people will continue to perish. In the words of Marvin Gaye we must constantly ask What's Going On? And what must be done?
The Rev. Otis Moss III is pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church.
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