Many Black Baptist Churches In America Are Beginning to Look to Young People for Leadership

Ashton Bell, a minister who got his start at the King of Kings Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, is one of the youngest ministers in Des Moines at just 18 years old. (Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/The Register )
Ashton Bell, a minister who got his start at the King of Kings Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, is one of the youngest ministers in Des Moines at just 18 years old.
(Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/The Register )

The moment Ashton Bell told his congregation that he wanted to preach, he might as well have scored a touchdown in one of his Roosevelt High School football games.

At the time, Bell was a 15-year-old drummer, singer and organ player at King of Kings Baptist Church in Des Moines. But he didn’t know he was ready to preach from the pulpit until something inside told him one Sunday to stand up and say that he’d been called to ministry. His spontaneous declaration resulted in a thrilling reaction from the pews.

“The whole church goes crazy!” says Bell, now 18, remembering that day. ” ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ ”

Bell’s spirited and supported entry into ministry at one of Des Moines’ black Baptist churches was not singular. He is one of five young ministers, ages 18 to 27, who have been welcomed into church leadership by an older generation of pastors and congregants hoping to keep young people engaged in the religion.

All five of these young ministers are friends — two of them cousins — who support one another as they approach a common endeavor with individual strengths. They are working to keep other young people interested in the church via pop culture and social media, addressing modern issues, being a peer and applying the Bible to today’s challenges for 20-somethings.

Their involvement comes at a time when shrinking participation by youth has caused alarm among many religious denominations. Millennials are less likely to be affiliated with a religion than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young, a 2010 survey from the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project found.

While young members of historically black churches are more involved in religion than the general population, their affiliation still pales in comparison with that of their older counterparts. One in five African-Americans under age 30 is unaffiliated, compared with one in eight African-Americans of all ages and one in 14 African-Americans over age 50, according to Pew.

The effort to retain young members in Des Moines’ black Baptist churches is part of a greater movement to keep the church relevant and long-lasting.

“We have a deep concern and make a concerted effort towards attracting and retaining those that have grown up within our convention,” said the Rev. Morris Tipton, spokesman for the National Baptist Convention, USA. Morris’ organization, the unifying body of national Baptist churches, boasts a membership of approximately 7 million individuals, including Des Moines’ young ministers.

Part of the effort to retain young people involves recognizing them as potential leaders, Tipton said.

In the past, he said, leadership in black Baptist churches was reserved for older pastors.

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Source: Des Moines Register | Sharyn Jackson, sjackson@dmreg.com

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