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Are social services bringing millennials to church?

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First Shiloh Baptist Church
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One Buffalo pastor says the robust social services programs at his church may be a way to attract young people to his congregation, the notoriously unchurched millennials.

First Shiloh Baptist Senior Pastor Jonathan Staples says his church is flanked by affordable housing it built and other housing it helped to build - and he's planning more.

"We're looking to increase our footprint and develop more because the need is so great," says Staples. "The church really exists in what I call a food desert. There are no real grocery stores in the area. So several people have come to me with anecdotal stories of spending $50 a month on taxis to get to a grocery store."

Millennials? Staples says that's a different problem because their contact with a church is thin.

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Credit First Shiloh Baptist Church
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"They're born, when they get married and when they die. So we've got to figure out a way of having more connectivity and more touches with them and not just when they're hatched, when they're matched and when they're dispatched," Staples says, "and I think that the way that we do that is making sure that people understand the services that the church provides and understanding that the church really is a huge community resource."

Staples says that includes the adjacent housing in an area with a shortage of affordable housing, along with a variety of social services programs.

"We do free tax preparation from January through April 15. We have a pantry, food pantry program every Wednesday. We currently house the adoption and foster care program of the Urban League," he says. "So there are all kinds of people coming in and out and active of our church."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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