New initiative being launched to strengthen the African American Church
By Roy Maynard
Hoping to reverse recent trends, Bishop Scott J. Jones has launched a project that he hopes will strengthen the African-American churches in the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The African-American Church Initiative (AACI) will focus its efforts on 12 to 18 churches this year and next, with training for both clergy and lay leaders.
“Over the last decade or two, many of the African-American churches have decreased in membership and resources,” said the Rev. Robert Besser, the conference’s Director of Congregational Excellence. “This initiative is to help them turn their churches around, and to move into a direction of strength and vitality.”
The decline is part of a broader, societal trend, of course. “African-American young adults are more likely than their white counterparts to drop out of Protestant churches during their early adult years, new research shows,” Religious News Service points out. But there are things that congregations can do to turn these trends around, Besser said.
“Every church is different, and that’s why our team will meet with each church individually,” he said. “Our focus must be on meeting the needs of the community the church is in. And that’s different for every church. Context is important.”
District-wide meetings kick off on Aug. 3 at Tyler FUMC, and continue through September throughout the conference.
“In these meetings, the initiative will be presented, and church leaders will be able to ask questions and get answers as to what the initiative is all about,” said Besser. “A key component of this is the readiness and capacity questionnaire. It gives the leadership an idea of whether the church and pastor are ready for this journey, and whether they have the capacity for it.”
If they’re not ready, the AACI teams will help.
“But the churches have to have some involvement as well,” Besser said. “It’s a partnership. We’re here to walk alongside you.”
In November, Bishop Jones will hold two Bishop’s Lay Academies on Evangelism, first in Houston at Jones Memorial UMC on Nov. 9 and at FUMC Tyler on Nov. 16. The academies are open to everyone, at no charge.
“I will be teaching about the many ways God can use your church and you personally to reach your community,” Bishop Jones said in a recent letter to pastors and lay leaders of the conference’s predominantly African-American churches.
The AACI comes my heart, he said.
“I believe the good news of Jesus is meant for all people and I want our local churches to be vibrant,” the Bishop wrote.
To register for the district meetings, contact your district here.