Sunday morning, 11 o’clock at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Chicago’s south side: So much stature, nearly a century of tradition.
“It was written up in ‘Aristocrats of Color,’ so it has that strong distinction,” Rev. Jesse Knox says.
But there are so few members in attendance. Just a few miles north, on the same morning, 5,000 thousand people packed an arena on the UIC campus. The New Life Covenant Church has become so popular its sanctuary on the South Side is now just too small.
“As I stood there and I saw people turning around and going back home, I knew that we needed to make room for more growth,” Pastor John Hannah said.
Two churches, moving in opposite directions. One is growing; the other is struggling to attract young members. Hannah and his fellow pastors acknowledge there can be tension between young churches and old.
“We have churches that are becoming more fossils than anything else. They’re dying on the vine,” Rev. Otis Moss of Trinity United Church of Christ says.
Many in the African American community are alarmed that congregations of older black churches are dwindling. The churches that sustained the community for generations.
Takisha Wade and Torrance Barber, in their early 30s, believe they know why young people are turning away from older churches. Wade says the churches are “stiff and boring and not fun.”
They say New Covenant is certainly not that. From the cheerful greetings at the door to the rousing music performed by a choir wearing sports attire, young people clearly have embraced this church.
“This place is fun and lively. You don’t feel ashamed or nervous to give praise to God when you come here,” Wade says.
Hannah founded the church only seven years ago. Asked about whether his congregation is attracted more by the entertainment value, he says, “It’s not about entertainment. I literally think that it’s all about Christ, and if we preach the Gospel — the word he’s given us — it draws.”
Rev. Moss recalled answering an older deacon’s complaint that a young member’s clothes were too casual for church.
“So I had to sit them both down and say ‘You must understand the young man right here you’re critiquing is wearing Sean John jeans and is wearing a Rocawear shirt, and his outfit costs more than your suit. He’s wearing the best. He’s bringing the best to the worship experience.’”
You might wonder whether the ministers feel any competition. They all say no.
In fact, New Life Covenant’s pastor says he tells his members not bring people from other churches, but reach out to alcoholics and drug addicts — people who may not go to church at all.