A new crop of D.C. churches has discovered the secret to appealing to millennials

Source: The Washington Post

By Amanda Abrams

Aaron Graham is talking to Washingtonians about power.

“How do you live out your identity and have influence, not just in your personal life but in your public life?” he asks, standing at the front of a school auditorium in D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Lanky, informal and casually dressed, Graham could be mistaken for a tech guy, albeit one who is clearly at ease talking about the meaning of life in front of several hundred people.

The crowd before him listens raptly; some people take notes.

Graham, 36, is the founder and lead pastor of the District Church, the biggest new church most Washingtonians have never heard of. Celebrating its sixth anniversary in September, the institution gathers upwards of 600 worshipers on Sundays. The vast majority of them are Millennials, the demographic group pollsters have described as significantly less religious than the rest of the population.

The District Church isn’t D.C.’s only church for young professionals. In the past few years, there’s been a wave of new churches targeting the young professionals who have moved into the city in droves. But Graham’s church is the most successful of that crop. That might  have to do with his intuitive sense of what young people in Washington are seeking, which has resulted in a potent combination of social justice, multiculturalism and unfiltered evangelicalism.

Graham likes to dispel the myth that young adults aren’t interested in religion. It is true that young adults are most apt to identify as ‘nones,’ that growing  segment of Americans that do not  identify with a traditional faith group

But while “people aren’t automatically checking the box for which religion they are, like they used to,”  Graham says,  many “young people are very engaged with their faith.” Millennials want to be involved in something that is going to touch the core of them, he explains; it just has to feel authentic.

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