How African American churches will come to terms with growing distrust of religion among young people? How can they recover leadership without compromising their values and becoming mere platforms for politicians’ campaigns? In this article, I will explore some innovative and less risky alternatives that can help churches stay relevant and impactful in the Black community.

Is the Black church about to lose its relevance in this new digital age? Is it doomed to become a relic of the past that people will go to visit on their tourist trips as it has happened with the Catholic Church in Europe? It is true that the pandemic has been a very hard blow from which the Black church has not yet been able to recover. Back in time, the Black church was the backbone of the civil rights movement. Furthermore, many black families have centered their lives around church in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s, attending weekly services for years. However, in the past 15 years, the decline in attendance by the youth is significantly rampant, but the death stroke arrived during the pandemic.

However, Jason Oliver Evans, a doctoral student in Religious Studies at University of Virginia, is optimistic in spite of the reality of the numbers in USA; “Despite this decline, African Americans are the most religious racial group in the United States”, [and Black people are the most spiritual beings around the world].

• Membership reduction due to the pandemic
Loss of membership due to the pandemic is simply a consequence, not the problem. The root cause of the Black church's problems is deeper. People, forced to disconnect from the influence of leaders, have questioned all sorts of existential issues (family, work, friendships, …) and this scrutiny of priorities has not eluded the church... “What has the Black church done for me and my future?” is what many have asked themselves... and obviously, few religious institutions have passed the test.

• Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. already gave his warning
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his letter from Birmingham jail in 1963, the urgent necessity for the Black church to get serious about being effective; if not, the youth, the next generation, would see the Black church as irrelevant. And this prophecy has come to past for many of them. The millions of dollars that have been donated over the years within its midst have not materialized in tangible benefits to local communities, but rather, benefited the pockets of certain individuals. People have wondered for the longest time if those institutions could have done a lot more than they have. After 6 decades of ineffectiveness, it is time to redeem the wrong.

• The historical role of religious institutions in Black communities
Religious institutions, especially churches, have played a vital role in the lives of Black communities throughout history. They have served not just as places of worship, but also as centers of social, cultural, and political life. Churches have served as safe spaces for Black people to gather and connect with their community, especially during times of hardship and discrimination.

For example, during the period of slavery, churches were often the only places where enslaved African Americans could gather and freely express themselves without fear of punishment. Churches also played a critical role in the Underground Railroad, helping enslaved people escape to freedom. After the Civil War, and during the Civil Rights Movement, churches served as key meeting places for activists and leaders, providing a platform for organizing and advocacy efforts.

Throughout history, religious institutions have also provided educational, financial, and social support for Black communities. They have established schools, provided job training, and offered assistance to those in need. Churches have also served as a source of comfort and support for Black people, providing them with a sense of community and belonging.

In short, religious institutions have been instrumental in the cultural, social, and political development of Black communities and have played a significant role in their struggle for equality and justice.

But what happened to all of that? Can any contemporary church today claim the medal of having achieved one-fifth of the above-mentioned feats? What has happened to the gospel of loving our neighbor and community? Words without action is what characterizes the son who lost his legitimacy to claim his place in the kingdom (Matthew. 21:28-31), but it is also what has meant the loss of relevance in the eyes of the 21st century youth, eager for justice and righting the wrongs still affecting the Black community to this day.

  • The potential of Metaverse for religious communities
Fortunately, it is not too late... Before dying into oblivion, religious leaders who wish to regain their role of service and relevance among the Black community can take advantage of what Web3 and the Metaverse have to offer. Let us list a few:

A. Empowering communities through tokenization
  1. Providing training and support on how to tokenize assets or offerings to members, allowing them to use NFTs as a way to collect and manage contributions and offerings. How many times have we heard parishioners' complaints aboutthe “money song”? Offerings and money collection has always been a controversial issue within religious communities. What if a transparent system could be established for the collective decision of where and how the collected funds will be used? With a transparent system, the chances of increasing the collection basket for social purposes would multiply exponentially.
  2. Developing a reward system for members who participate and contribute to the community, using tokens as a way to recognize their efforts and incentivize engagement. Sister Ann has been bringing food to sick brothers in the hospital who have no family to care for them for years, and Brother Carl takes the most dedicated young men every Sunday afternoon to give motivational talks to the incarcerated in the community. Why not reward them in a tangible way for their work, instead of sending them a "thank you and blessings"? Now it is possible to walk the talk.

B. Connecting remote communities through virtual spaces
  1. Developing a Metaverse church where people from remote areas can attend church services and participate in church events through virtual reality. This can help to bring the community together and create a more immersive faith experience. After the lockdown, not only the Black church, but churches of many denominations never got their congregations back; It really did change the entire landscape of religion across the world. After people had to go in parking lots and sit and do their service that way, or do it over the internet on Zoom, they just decided not to go back. Through a virtual church we now have the ability to maintain a sense of community among members regardless of location. There are no more excuses for anyone. Can you imagine announcing in your pulpit the inauguration of a virtual church? That will give you the opportunity you were looking for to reconnect with the lagging youth to return to services. But be careful, the novelty will only work for a short period of time, if it is not accompanied by other actions that are directly linked to the improvement of the lives of the membership.
  2. Creating a decentralized platform where members can share their faith-based experiences, attend online events, and participate in online discussions and forums: Religious communities are often social circles and spaces to share experiences that can edify companions who are going through difficulties. Social networks are a window to the world, however, there are certain experiences that sometimes we want to reserve for a more intimate circle, without the worry of “what people will say” or a misinterpretation of the testimony when it is exposed outside of “spiritual” circles. This will also be possible with a customized Metaverse and decentralized platform.

C. Providing access to resources and opportunities for community members
  1. Creation of a “Church talent” marketplace where member’s hidden talents could really find a platform to be displayed, collect or auction to the best bidder. The self-esteem of the most needy within our community could be raised if, instead of forcing charity, the creativity and work of the members is promoted, being able, now yes, to mask generous gifts in the form of anonymous “support”, transactions and purchases. In our communities there are many talented people, but they believe that the only way to exploit that talent is to exercise it in the pulpit: singers, painters, sculptors, musicians,... in the Black community there is an incredible talent that could "bless" the work if they had a platform adequate to these present times. NFTs are a very ingenious way to monetize and register each and every artwork created by members.
  2. Developing a fundraising platform for members to contribute and pool resources for community projects and initiatives. For the construction of large community projects, transparency is the basis for fundraising. Empowering the "investors" and giving them a say in which projects should be funded will take the religious community into previously unknown realms.
  3. "Decentralized Religious Education and Outreach": A decentralized platform for religious education and outreach, empowering communities to share their teachings and beliefs with others in a secure and censorship-resistant environment. Since certain denominations in search of the true Israel have now been classified as "extremist” by the Powers that Be, the safeguarding of theological resources and revelations demands a secure platform to create, share and disseminate without censorship. Web3 also allows us to have such a space.

  • Conclusions

The Metaverse will not resurrect membership’s spirituality or even truth (this depends solely and entirely on the message preached and the example given by leaders and members), but it can surely bring back the service that it used to have to the social and economic benefits of the local community in a faster and more efficient way. Are you willing to bring your community to the level it belongs? HOLD THE VISION, TRUST THE PROCESS.

MARCH, 22 / 2023
As Black communities continue to navigate the challenges of our rapidly changing world, it's more important than ever to find innovative solutions that promote connection, growth, and prosperity. If you're inspired by the potential of the Metaverse to transform the way we approach religious communities, I invite you to schedule a call with me today. Let's explore how JJBK Studio can help you create a customized Metaverse project that empowers your community and expands your reach in exciting new ways.
Text author: Jimmy Jean
Photography: Midjourney AI ©JJBK studio 2023

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