Lia McIntosh opened the workshop on Strengthening the Black Church with scripture from Acts 3:1-10, which tells the story of a man outside of church, who had church people walk by him all day long.
“He got accustomed to the relationship. Maybe he would get a little change. How many days did people walk past him before it took someone actually seeing him?” she asked. “We’ve got to see one another, and see the people around us, and give what we have. Peter and John saw this man. They took him by the hand and went into the church.”
Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III went through some statistic on the black church. Of the 30,000 United Methodist Churches, about 7 percent are predominantly black. The percentage of United Methodist who attend these churches is much smaller, because the churches are smaller. The largest (Windsor Village in Houston, Texas) has 5,000 in worship. The 25th largest has 375 in worship. Of the black churches, 83 percent have fewer than 100 in worship.
They are not all in decline, though.Two new churches, Impact in Atlanta and The Journey in Columbia, South Carolina, have shown impressive growth.
The workshop had six large sheets of paper on the wall, asking questions about the black church. Participants were asked to write their answers to the questions on post-it notes, and after several minutes someone read the answers aloud from each question.
“We are the experts,” McIntosh said. “The answers are within us. They won’t come from someone outside of us. We are the think tank. We have the experience in our lives.”
The questions, and a sample of the answers, were as follows:
Why do we need black UMCs? Answers included: it’s part of our culture, we need a prophetic voice, we need the black worship style, we need the social justice emphasis, we need role models in the black community, we need them to help develop community leaders, our children need to know where they came from, and if we only have diverse churches the black voice is no longer heard.
How do we create new churches? Answers included: we don’t need new ones, look beyond brick and mortar and focus on virtual church/social media, focus on house churches, healthy churches should take on small congregations as second and third sites, mergers and restarting, create around mutual interest and service experience, provide leadership opportunities for youth, campus ministries on black campuses, establish ministries in poverty stricken areas
What resources are needed? Funding support, leadership, focus on congregations, fair distribution of resources, good flow of information
What leadership development is needed for black UMCs? Compassion, technology training, scholarships, recruitment, opportunities for youth, accountability, being more welcoming for newcomers, and being adaptable
What communication is needed? Social media, reaching out to the next generation, all forms of communication, letters, blogs, open/honest communication, communication to all levels, more interaction with district offices, sharing successes and failures
Other (questions added by people from the group): What’s working in other conferences, how do we support new black church starts, how do we get leaders to launch ministries, we need to be connectional- this is part of our DNA as black leaders, need to have a youth event like WOW for black youth, name and deal with current dysfunctions that keeps the black church from growing, are we losing people as a result of competition from more vibrant and more spiritual movements, how do we retain teens and young adults, are we equipping clergy leaders with what to expect in a black church, what is the role of young white leaders drawn to non-white churches?