Friday, June 26, 2009

How can I get black people to come to my church? pt.1

This has been a question that has been asked to me quite a bit over the years. Most of the time this question is asked by sincere men who feel like their churches don't reflect their communities or the heart of the pastor asking. This has always been a humbling question to me for many reasons. One being that these men are asking me for my perspective. Two that these men are asking. I think that it requires humility to desire this and then pursue input on how to accomplish it. With the history of this nation's racism, even with a black president at the helm, the silhouette of past racial grievances remains. At best it may be gone but not forgotten. Even then some would say that it is not gone but has simply slid under the radar of political correctness and "intelligent denials." Having acknowledged the reality that the past still has some affect on the present, the desire for people to have the church racially united is a huge step toward humility and honoring the Lord.

I have, in the paragraph above, used the word humility twice as a description for racial integration on Sunday. Why? The main reason is that I don't think the people who are asking know exactly what they are asking. And in order to get the result they are hoping for it is going to require humility, not just from them but from those in their churches.

Normally with this kind of issue the blogger or whatever he or she is gives some historical ramifications mixed with some theological ramifications to make a simple point that usually doesn't answer the above question, "How can I get blacks (African Americans) to come to my church?" I will not spend anytime on this not because it is unimportant but because I want to address other consequences to this question and actually try to answer it.

Thoughts to consider for those asking:

Black people are not monolithic

Though it sounds like a "duh" statement many have not actually considered this and can assume that all black people will respond to the same things. Older generations of black people may have more difficulty with going to a "white church" because they can remember more vividly the church's lack of intervention in this country's racial history. There may be still waters but they may also run very deep.

Another aspect of this is that black people do not define themselves by the same standards. So the question is who are the black people you are trying to reach? There is an unfortunate measurement that we have for each other and it is basically this. The more ghetto you are the more black you are. This standard would be dominant in my generation but not so in my moms. They make think the more you break the stereotypes or are aware of your history the more black you are. While there are a few ways black people are defined amongst themselves I believe that my generation's evaluation of true blackness is the most influential today. This viewpoint which I have historically agreed with has had detrimental effects within the black community and has made the integration of whites and blacks together in churches difficult to achieve.

Mainstream society is also aware of and embraced this view of "ghetto=black." You will often see ignorance in speech as a defining characteristic in media when black people are portrayed. This is sad but true. So are you trying to reach "ghetto blacks" or middle to upper class blacks who could be considered sell-outs for marrying, hanging around, educated with and have the mannerism of white people? Personally, even though I am a pastor in Sovereign Grace Ministries, which is a predominantly white family of churches, I currently maintain a lifetime "hood pass" because my background qualifies as ghetto enough and I still keep to my "black mannerisms" when appropriate. lol.

Does your church have the heart that you have for blacks coming into your church?

This is important because it will be the people in your church that will determine if blacks or anyone for that matter feel welcome at your church. I have seen and talked to a lot of guys over the years that desire this and have assumed their churches were on one accord with them only to find out the hard way that their churches are in fact happy with being "white churches."
You cannot reach anyone if your church has not the heart or desire to do so. Black people may come, they may like you but not like the people in your church and you won't see them again. Lead your church, get them on board with your vision and it will make a HUGE difference if black people show up.

Is your church in proximity to a black community?

Another "duh" question but you would be surprised how many ask the above question and have the heart but don't live close enough to really make a difference. I don't got no black folks humpin' all the way somewhere to go to church. lol.

What sacrifices are you willing to make?

This question is probably the biggest for a couple of reasons. You do not bring individuals of a different race to your church, you bring individuals of a different culture and worldview to your church. Most if not all churches have their own cultures within culture itself. This can be an adjustment that the dominant culture of a church can minimize in desiring to fellowship with a subservient culture. Usually any dominant culture that is willing to allow others to enter into that culture expect or at least assume that those entering in agree with and will conform to the culture. However, that is not always the case and it can cause the opposite effect and create more work for those hoping to unite in the gospel.

So the question what sacrifices are you willing to make gets at the heart of the humility that I have spoken of above. You cannot expect to have black people come to your church be immersed into a different culture both racially and theologically and assume that all they are they will sacrifice and all that you are they will embrace. WRONG! While some do happen this way most times it can be the subtle arrogance or ignorance of the church to assume assimilation over appreciation. This alone can leave a bad taste in black people's mouths.

The key phrase here is don't expect but respect! Don't expect people to have no issues with the way you do things but respect that they may have a differing perspective that you can really learn from and possibly incorporate. That is a part of the humility process you must undergo when pursuing black people to come your church.

So what are some of the sacrifices that may need to be made?

There is no exact or exhaustive list in considering something like this but I will give a few suggestions. Before doing that let me make one serious qualification about these sacrifices that you should consider. Churches of different sizes are going to apply these things differently. A church of 1-500 can be way more flexible in what it does than a church of 700 plus. Some of these suggestions may fit well some may not. At least let them function as a guide to get you to think about what would work with your church.

The sacrifice that I think is the most important and would be the most helpful for you (and whomever else with you) is to go to an all "black church" and worship one Sunday or mid-week service. Most times white people don't have to experience what it is like to go to a church of a different culture and worship the Lord. It would benefit you to go and see what it is like to feel awkward; To adjust to a new rhythm; To sit under an unfamiliar preaching style; To see how this culture experiences God on a Sunday. This will give you a small understanding and hopefully an appreciation for what you are asking black people to do. If white people had an idea of how that felt I believe it could promote the kind of understanding that will help their church embrace blacks as they come. It's not about assimilation. It's about appreciation.







3 comments:

  1. Great post Brother. Think about the great worship that we will have once we reach heaven's gates.

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  2. I just wanted you to know that I have featured your articles on my blog at http://workingtowardseden.blogspot.com/. I couldn't find a personal email for you so I hope communicating this info through a comment is okay. Do you mind sharing your email? Mine is WorkingTowardsEden@gmail.com. Thanks again!

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