Millennial Christians Are Redefining 'Bible Belt' Values

How churches right in the 'buckle' are changing everything.

Americans generalize the “Bible Belt.” With over 80 percent of people in the region (typically construed as Southern states, maybe or maybe not including Florida) identifying as “Christian,” it’s no wonder people have assumed the Bible Belt is, and always has been, a region where church is just a way of life.

But it’s always just a matter of time until the norm becomes the mundane. And that’s certainly the case in the Bible Belt and the rise of “cultural Christianity.” No longer is the “us four and no more” church attractive to newcomers, no longer is the religiosity among believers acceptable, and no longer is the generational, blind way of accepting Jesus guaranteed.

After about the 1990s, Bible Belt culture began to shift, the 2000s lit a fire and church world began to change.

New Ways of ‘Doing Church’

Two major cities in Oklahoma—Oklahoma City and Tulsa (the “buckle” of the Bible Belt), have been at the starting line of reshaping the way communities and believers do church and grow spiritually.

In Oklahoma, the ministry of Craig Groeschel—the pastor of LifeChurch and one of the guys behind the YouVersion Bible app and Open Network website—began innovating and developing the way we approach church since the late '90s. LifeChurch began in 1996 in Oklahoma City with a single campus, and it has now grown to have 26 churches in eight different states around the country through the broadcast of Groeschel’s messages to each extended campus.

Aside from this new approach to delivering a message and down-to-earth method of reaching people who need Christ, LifeChurch’s creation of the YouVersion Bible app transformed the way the Bible is shared all over the world. With more than 250 million downloads on tablets, smartphones and desktop computers, YouVersion now offers nearly 1,300 versions of the Bible in 1,000 different languages.

Groeschel’s vision in offering thousands of resources at no cost, a free download of the Bible app and a constant open door with nearly six church services offered at each LifeChurch campus every Sunday, is simply this: “When we stand together, we can reach even more people. Our mission is to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.”

We’re seeing congregations arise and remove the religious masks, remove the tradition, remove the stale taste in nonbelievers mouths.

Another church, this one in Tulsa, stands out among the sea of churches living in the “buckle.” It could be their establishment and continuation of a 36-year-old church in the heart of the city, or the establishment of over 1,800 of Bible colleges all over the world, as well as one right in Tulsa’s own backyard.

It could be their creation of The Tulsa Dream Center that offers food, clothing, medical attention and recreational activities for children and adults in need in the city. It could be their program that airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel, which broadcasts to millions of viewers around the world or it could be witnessing over 30,782 people give their life to Christ in 2016.

That church is Victory, led by pastors Paul and Ashley Daughtery. I sat down with Paul in a recent interview and discussed the shift we’ve seen in the Bible Belt, throughout the 2000s to 2017.

Could we claim leaders, pastors and churches are revolutionizing and redefining the Bible Belt? Absolutely. Here’s what we discovered:

Churches Are Coming Alive

Over the past 20 years, thousands of churches have popped up in the Bible Belt—especially in the "buckle." Paul explains what comes to his mind when he thinks of the region: “When I think of the Bible Belt, I think of a church on every block. There’s a lot of church history here: a lot of great ministries, big churches and people who are knowledgeable about the Bible. Doesn’t mean they’re necessarily Christian, but they’ve heard of Jesus.”

In Oklahoma alone, 22 percent of the population regularly attended a church service in the year 2000 (The American Church). According to PewForum, 43 percent of the population regularly attended a church service in the year 2014. With a 200 percent jump in numbers, there has to be a main factor in the increase of church attendance.

Daugherty goes on to explain, “Churches are progressing greatly. I remember in the '90s, the "buckle" went through a great teaching on faith. I remember our church felt the shift. In 2007, there started to be a shift with more of a progressive look at faith, at the Bible, at God, and we allowed ourselves to remove the limits of how Church had to look.”

So, what’s the common denominator? What’s causing the shift in attendance, in belief, in acceptance of God? Welcome to the awakening. As Daugherty explains, “I think the reason Victory is growing is because there’s life flowing in and through it. Churches that are alive are going to stand out. In the Bible Belt, there is no lack of churches, but there is a lack of life-giving churches. The ones that are alive stand out, they’re moving with a mission, they’re involved with the city, they’re progressing.”

Now more than ever, we are seeing churches come alive. We’re seeing congregations arise and remove the religious masks, remove the tradition, remove the stale taste in nonbelievers mouths. If our goal is to reach lost souls for Jesus Christ, then the Bible Belt must come alive and ready to rise up in our cities, in our states, in our region, in our nation, in our world.

And it’s doing just that.

When we stand together in church, we gain a clearer perspective of what heaven will be like one day when all races, all ages, all people are united together with our savior for eternity.

Utilizing Technological Advances

With the launch of LifeChurch near the “buckle,” the church world made a big shift.

Daugherty acclaims Groeschel’s ministry: “LifeChurch changed Church World here drastically. Honestly, until LifeChurch began multiplying like they did, I thought our state would be very turned off to change. But then when I started seeing all that Craig Groeschel has done in establishing this very non-religious, come as you are church, LifeChurch helped us realize there’s a lot more lost people in this state than we thought.”

He continues, “Craig Groeschel blew the lid off with YouVersion. Two hundred million downloads? That blows my mind. But he did it so fast because of technology.”

Daugherty goes on to explain how the use of technology in Victory’s ministry has become essential in how they reach the nations. “We’re at 1,860 Victory Bible Colleges around the world that we’re able to reach via internet and computer access.”

Daugherty’s perspective shifted in looking at how they, too, utilize church online and technology.

“LifeChurch’s establishment has shifted a lot of church's mindsets to focusing on what they can do to reach more lost people and how they, too, can innovate—and not just maintain,” he says. “There’s also new ways to do church. People are open to this. Not just open to this, they’re ready for it. They want it.”

Multigenerational and Multicultural Churches

More and more, the churches are recognizing the importance of a multigenerational and multicultural church body.

“My parents paved and pioneered the way for the multigenerational and multicultural congregation that we have,” Daugherty explains, talking about the importance of diversity in his own congregation.

“Back in the early '90s, there was a little bit of an exodus of people who wanted to keep a church all the same. My parents began projecting more diversity in our church, and that really got inside of me. As I got older, I saw that a multicultural and multiracial body was a rare thing in a church, and this really challenged me. I remember saying, ‘If I’m ever a pastor, I want all races, and don’t want my congregation to look lopsided.' We are still growing in this, and this is something we strive for in our church.”

When we stand together in church, we gain a clearer perspective of what heaven will be like one day when all races, all ages, all people are united together with our savior for eternity.

Churches for Their Cities

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Near the end of 2016, the "buckle" of the Bible Belt experienced extreme racial division. With the shooting of Terence Crutcher, the enemy began to attempt to stir up hate. Daugherty was on the front lines in addressing the tension and what took place in our city.

“God spoke to me to set aside a whole weekend to speak about the shootings in our nation and the hatred that was being stirred,” says Daugherty. “I had friends of mine from the African-American community share, as well as friends from the police force share, and had a strong moment of healing and prayer in our church services.”

Tulsa, according to Forbes, is the number one city for young entrepreneurs to start a business. Daugherty thinks there’s a direct correlation of millennials finding a spiritual purpose in Tulsa, as well as an economical purpose:

“I think God is preparing this army in Tulsa for ‘such a time as this’ to carry out whatever His plan is for our state, our nation, our world,” Daugherty says. “We are just one of the churches that will partner with the other churches out there. I do feel like God is moving within young people. They’re rising up and ready to run.”

He continues, “Tulsa is full of young life that’s bursting at the seams with outreach, compassion, evangelism, love and changing their community and the world.”

And if Church is changing like this right in the center of the Bible Belt, it’s sure to spread (if it hasn’t already) throughout the Southern Church.

Top Comments

Stanley Crescioni

49

Stanley Crescioni commented…

Sorry but what does "us four and no more" mean?

Erik Tryggestad

3

Erik Tryggestad commented…

Did you talk to any millenials for this piece? I see a couple of pastors and a lot of statements from Pew studies and whatnot, but it's really hard for me to get a feel for what you're trying to say here. The focus seems to be on two Oklahoma churches, but the topics seem to dance all over the place.

7 Comments

Stanley Crescioni

49

Stanley Crescioni commented…

Sorry but what does "us four and no more" mean?

Erik Tryggestad

3

Erik Tryggestad commented…

Did you talk to any millenials for this piece? I see a couple of pastors and a lot of statements from Pew studies and whatnot, but it's really hard for me to get a feel for what you're trying to say here. The focus seems to be on two Oklahoma churches, but the topics seem to dance all over the place.

David James Haisell

83

David James Haisell replied to Erik Tryggestad's comment

It wouldn't be an article on millennials if they actually *talked* to them.

Charity Berg

3

Charity Berg replied to David James Haisell's comment

Pastor Daugherty himself is a millennial just FYI

Seth Ingersoll

4

Seth Ingersoll commented…

I'm sorry, but this is crap.

None of these are Bible Belt values. Examples of Millennials redefining Bible Belt values would be things like "I'm a white evangelical who loves God and reads the Bible daily, but I also attend Moral Monday rallies at the state capital protesting the GOP attacks on African-American voting rights.

Or "I'm a white evangelical who loves Jesus and tries to embody the future Kingdom of God, but I think that the way most white southern Christians see lgbt people is disgusting and must be opposed."

Or "I'm a white evangelical Christian, but I don't buy the strict plenary verbal inspiration theology which is extrabiblical and is ultimately used for awkwardly-constructed, hateful theologies anyway."

Or "I'm a white evangelical who didn't vote for Trump because of the empathy that I see in the person of Jesus in the scriptures."

Those are things that would defy bible-belt values.

I'm a North Carolinian. Your shallow bullshit is insulting here. You are not a publication that actually helps when things are truly bad, or reports on substance so that people can learn things. You use words like "millenial" and "bible belt" to get clicks from people who think they're learning about how millenials are facing this interesting new world in light of their faith and the fact that the South has a huge battle between black and white Christians in terms of the kind of America they believe in, made worse and worse by the kind of meaningless imitation of journalism that you put out.

If you really cared, if any of you writers actually cared, you would come down here to a Moral Mondays event, and talk to people. (Or something else, there are tons of things).

Seth Ingersoll

4

Seth Ingersoll commented…

I grew up in and live in North Carolina.

If you actually want to talk about Millenials going against bible belt values, don't give us shit about some kind of "Multigenerational Churches", or some piddly "New Ways of Doing Church", which is what has been happening with white evangelicals literally forever.

Talk to us about the Millenial Christians who are going to Moral Mondays, who didn't vote like their white evangelical parents voted, who are evangelizing their own people because the Spirit of God is leading them a different way.

But don't title an article something like how millenials are pushing against bible belt values and then literally tell us stories of millenials submitting themselves to the bullshit bible belt values that have been around for decades.

Seth Ingersoll

4

Seth Ingersoll replied to Seth Ingersoll's comment

If any of you are actually trained journalists, please, PLEASE come down here and see what is actually happening. Come to one of the Moral Mondays things. Relevant isn't going to pay for it. They don't care about millenials who are bridging the conservative-liberal gap. But real stories about the church are here in North Carolina.

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