DisciplesWorld magazine ceased publication in early 2010.
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Conference will birth strategies for new African American churches (10/30/09)

By Nathan Day Wilson, DisciplesWorld contributing writer

INDIANAPOLIS (10/30/09) — With workshops and plenary sessions on a range of critical topics, Disciples will gather to share and strategize about challenges and opportunities facing African American church starts.

The New Church/Reconciliation Summit will be held at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. Nov. 2-5. It is sponsored by New Church Ministry and the Southeast Regional Fellowship (SERF) regional cluster.

According to Nadine Burton, minister of new church leader development, the summit "was developed to create vision and strategies that will give birth to African-American congregations and engage Disciples people of color constituencies in leadership and service within the Christian Church.”

This is the second such summit. The first was held in 2004. While the first summit resulted in “one or two new churches,” according to Burton, the second summit will focus participants on lessons and challenges discovered and confirmed since 2004.

The chief lesson learned is that birthing churches is much different than adopting them. Said Burton, “We have had many independent churches with people of color come into the denomination. They’ve come like babes and we are adopting them.”

Much more difficult, though, has been finding the right strategies and support systems for birthing new congregations. “That’s what we’ll do in Atlanta: strategize about models and ways to start churches from the ground up,” promised Burton.

Some key challenges are well known. For instance, according to data and experience, there are three challenges that emerge as a cluster of interdependent prerequisites for successful African American church starts: a designated building, excellent preaching and exciting music.

The first prerequisite is the building. For an African American new church to succeed, the congregation must inhabit a designated, recognized building, rather than meet in temporary spaces, such as school cafeterias or movie theaters on the weekends.

“I like your work, preacher, but when you get a real church building, call me,” is a frequently heard sentiment from African American worshippers by church planters such as Phil Ward of Destiny Worship Center Christian Church in Cedar Hill, Texas. A designated building demonstrates permanence and stability and commitment to the neighborhood and the ministry.

A second challenge faced by African American church starts is the absolute demand for excellent preaching. “To be effective and have any chance to grow, new churches must have excellent preachers,” advised Burton.

Along with the excellent preaching, African American church starts must provide exciting music. According to Burton, “The music must ignite the congregation.”

As a cluster these three challenges highlight the importance of having “highly trained church ministers,” according to Burton, to lead church starts “from the ground up.”

Among successful models with African American church starts is the “New Church Internship Model.” In this model, a church planter spends a period of time with an established congregation before fully engaging the hard work of church planting.

This model was used at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, Tenn. to help birth Real Faith Christian Church in Clarksdale, Miss.

A second successful model to further dissect at the summit is the “Churches Starting Churches” model. As the name implies, a host congregation gives financial and other support to the new congregation.

A related challenge is that while 75 percent of the U.S. population lives in metropolitan areas, over half of Disciples congregations are located in rural settings. One population study concluded that more than 65 percent of the U.S. population does not have immediate access to a Disciples congregation.

Organizers hope the sharing and strategizing results in increasingly effective African American church starts.

There is still time to register for the Summit. If interested, contact Nadine Burton at 800/274-1883 or go to www.newchurchministry.org

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Wilson pastors First Christian Church, Shelbyville, Ind.; consults about conflict, communication and fundraising; and blogs at nathandaywilson.blogspot.com. He can be reached at nathan@fccshelby.org.