In response to sobering statistics on church decline, representatives from 25 African-American congregations gathered in June to “Activate” a new three-year commitment to revitalizing Black churches across the conference. Read about the new energy and new ideas surrounding this 2013 initiative.
The high-energy assembly “kick-off” day in mid June could be described as a morph between a church revival and a revved-up self-help motivational seminar. In reality, June 15 marked the day almost 100 representatives from 25 African-American congregations gathered for the first of a series of Activate workshops that excite Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR), Chairperson Juanita Jackson.
Organized by The Texas Annual Conference for Congregational Excellence in collaboration with BMCR, the workshop provided a forum for participants to be enlightened, energized and equipped to activate a strategy to become vibrant living churches. This introduction to a new initiative called Activate focused on three objectives: 1) define church identity, 2) identify community needs and opportunities, and 3) start the commitment to revitalize Black churches. “There were no nodding heads in this meeting as pastors and laity excitedly explored suggestions on how to ensure their church’s existence into the future,” recalls Juanita. “The invigorating conversations evoked a fair amount of reactions such as verbal “amens” and “in the name of Jesus” as the group discussed strategies and ideas.”
Why is there a need for such a conversation? For some time, there has been concern in the Texas Conference about diminishing growth in Black churches. In 1998, the Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) Vision 2000 Celebration initiative addressed this topic. In 2011, “The Summary Analysis of Black Church Study Based on Statistical Data” report showed that there was little church growth among black congregations from 2008-2011. Only one Program Level church became a larger Corporate Level church, and eight Pastoral Level churches declined to smaller Family Level churches. The Activate model is the result of task force efforts to readdress this critical problem.
Juanita opened the Empowerment Session and introduced other special guests including Pastor Kenneth Levingston, Sr. Pastor of the host church, Jones Memorial UMC and Reggie Clemmons, who led praise and worship. Dr. Donald Waddleton, Director of Congregational Excellence of the Texas Annual Conference, serving as Activate Team Leader, shared that the purpose of the gathering, “was the need to create a sense of urgency concerning the eventual consequences of stifled church growth and closures. He urged attendees to commit to the goals of the 3-year program, to equip Black churches to reach their desired potential and become vital, and sustainable congregations.” Dr. Waddleton emphatically proclaimed that, “The time for action is now!”
Dr. Jacqui King, meeting facilitator, kept the group motivated as she encouraged the attendees to “keep it real” as they move forward in making an honest assessment while examining their church body inside and out. Participants engaged in honest dialogue throughout the session on matters that enhanced, or jeopardized, their church’s future growth or existence.
Rev. Ed Jones led the discussion on “The Heart of Change” where he encouraged churches to examine their attitude towards being open to change, and fervently noted that, “all living things change.” Rev. Jones challenged the group to identify changes in their communities that have occurred over the years, such as loss of jobs, demographics, and services offered. He suggested that the attendees recognize that just as these changes were required to evolve with the shifting culture of community, so must the church evolve in how it approaches ministry. Rev. Jones relayed that although God’s Word does not change; how we execute the Word does change and that we must embrace the use of new vessels for new wine. He stated, “Change is not to be feared, but looked upon as new opportunities.”
Enid Henderson, Activate team laity representative, shared during the “Take it to the Streets” part 1 session, how we must boldly take ministry, mission, healing, forgiveness, vision, and purpose to the streets of our community, just as Jesus did when he walked the earth. “During this session, we were advised to be sensitive to what the upcoming data reveals to help us understand the needs of our mission fields and determine what tools we would use to meet those needs,” adds Juanita.
In the final session “How to Get Moving”, Dr. King identified resources that could help determine the needs of the church community, such as The Mission Insite Report available through the TAC, along with additional resources including the United Way community reports. Notes Juanita, “Dr. King emphasized that reading and using data, along with knowing your neighbors, are key to successful ministry outreach.” Attendees were empowered with tools on how to interpret data on conference reports, a Web resource card, and a church assessment tool. Additionally, role playing scenarios were presented on how to meet and collaborate with their neighbors and groups in the community to form new ministry partnerships to meet the needs of the local church.
Additionally, all were advised to use the most important tool for successful activation – prayer without ceasing. Those present were asked to write personal prayers that would strengthen and guide their churches through the Activate journey, being reminded that the printed prayers and the various 3:16 scripture handouts also offered a source of strength, direction and power.
According to Juanita, the session ended with the same excitement and vigor with which it began. Attendees expressed a sincere feeling of being inspired and equipped to begin their efforts to Activate and ensure that their church is a vital, viable, and sustainable vessel for taking God’s word and work far into the future. Additional meetings are scheduled for September 7th and November 2nd at Jones Memorial UMC.
(For more information on taskforce members or the Activate initiative contact Dr. Donald Waddleton, at firstname.lastname@example.org).