In this edition of our series on Ghost Megachurches, we cover a predominantly black church in Chicago that once boasted 10000 members now in an evident decline. In the same month that Rick Warren announced his successor Andy Wood, James Meeks announced Charlie Dates would replace him at Salem Baptist Church in Chicago.
Branch Covidianism has not been easy on Salem Baptist Church. Credited by Christian Post as the reason for decline, the church seems to have failed to adapt well for their size in the highly competitive online environment. Black churchgoers have routinely been less willing to return to in-person worship and this would Salem Baptist Church looks like another casualty in the trend.
A survey of their most recent June 26th service shows a crowd in the mere hundreds with sections of the auditorium unused.
On YouTube, Salem Baptist Church has near 10,000 subscribers and on a good day a sermon has over 5000 views. For comparison, The Potters House of Sarah Jakes Roberts had over 600000 subs and easily amassed 20000 views a sermon. This Ghost Megachurch shut down its Denver location. What stands out the most about Salem Baptist Church’s video sermons is the poor production value, as the sermons are not even streamed in HD.
Enter Charlie Dates
James Meeks and his wife are set to retire prior to the 38th anniversary of the church they founded. Charlie Dates, someone who has some experience working for the church, has been selected to take over. The church will be handed over in early January.
Charlie Dates is a rather high profile liberal pastor. In early 2020, he would host Beth Moore at his church to preach. Later on he would exit the Southern Baptist Convention because of the (fake) stand its seminary presidents took against Critical Race Theory. Dates also serves on the leadership council of the And Campaign. For a liberal black church in Chicago, Dates seems like the perfect man to be the pastor they are looking for.
But will Charlie Dates be enough to reverse the trajectory? The online ministry is not growing, as viewership on their channel appears to have peaked about nine months ago. Perhaps the younger liberal star will energize the online presence. Progressive Baptist Church, where Dates currently preaches, has around 7.57K subs on YouTube with slightly lower view counts on sermons that are all produced in HD.
Charlie Dates announced to his own churches that he would become senior pastor of both churches. Dates claims that the two churches will not be merged, despite both being under his leadership. Instead, he plans to serve both churches with an emphasis on developing new leaders to export to other churches.
The plan of Charlie Dates is far more ambitious than a career move. This will be a test of whether a liberal preaching star can revive a declining megachurch, as well as his ability to create a network of likeminded pastors.