African American Churches Come Together for ABIDE
By: Sherri Gragg
As the Rev. Anne Fields looks out over her congregation at North Avenue UMC, Pittsburg, she is struck by a disturbing change. Pews which were once filled with grandparents, parents, and children all dressed in their Sunday best are emptier than they once were. The grandparents have remained faithful, and bring their grandchildren along with them to worship, but it seems an entire generation has wandered away from what was once the center of life within the community.
“One of the challenges facing the African American church is the exodus of its younger members,” said Fields. “Traditionally, the church has been the center of not only religious activities but also social events. However, in recent years, this has changed.”
And Fields wants to not only know why, she wants solutions.
A Solution for Small Churches
Enter, ABIDE. This autumn, the North District will welcome the first ABIDE specifically for African American churches. The ABIDE ministry, part of Spiritual Leadership, Inc (SLI) seeks to bring revitalization to small membership churches through “accountable discipleship and leadership development.” For the past year, Spiritual Leadership has brought ABIDE to a limited number of pilot churches within the Texas Annual Conference with the purpose of building teams of both lay and clergy leaders who first agree to live in accountability with each other, and from there bring new life to their churches.
“Part of what will make this unique is that the group gathered will be almost exclusively African American,” said ABIDE coach for the North District, the Rev. Evelyn Fisher. “As always, we take context into consideration with ABIDE. Culture will be reflected in the outcome.”
As Fisher and her co-coach, the Rev. Embra Jackson, work with the churches in the North District, they will listen carefully to local pastors to pinpoint the unique needs of their community and how the churches can meet them.
Learning to ABIDE
More than 50 representatives from churches in the North District attended an ABIDE preview event September 9, 2018. Now, as part of the spiritual preparation phase, Fields and Jackson will lead as many people as possible from each congregation in a special five-week study. “Growing people in discipleship is the first step,” said Fields. “We will come together in January for a retreat. It is the beginning of the process.”
According to Fields, small churches are not a barrier to vitality and ministry. They are an opportunity for God to do something great. Fisher is excited to be a part of ABIDE. “Since one of the goals of the ABIDE Initiative is to establish long-term strategic leadership, it is my prayer that we can devise a plan to re-engage the millennial generation,” she said. “After all, they are the next leaders, and their children need them worshiping beside them.”
To learn more about ABIDE, visit Spiritual Leadership online at http://spiritual-leadership.org/ and