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Resourcing African American Churches

By Linda Bergquist

In my work as a church planting catalyst, I am assigned various language and ethnic groups, some of which shift periodically as I participate with a larger strategic team. A few months ago, I began temporarily filling a role that was vacated by someone who had been relating to new African American churches. The aspect of this work that has been the greatest learning curve for me is in the area of resourcing church planters. I am learning by making mistakes, but in the spirit of David Packard, co-founder of Hewlitt-Packard, I keep stretching. Packard said, “Take risks. Ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not reaching far enough.” Here are some of the things God is teaching me—let me know if I am mistaken!

The Challenge of Being Indigenous

Most of the African American church planters with whom I work have lived in the location where they plant for a long time. I truly appreciate this, and wish even more of our local planters of any race or ethnicity were being raised from the harvest. They have local relationships, understand local culture, and have learned to live in the situations of their local economies. The flip side, at least in my particular cultural context — and perhaps yours, is that the Christian population is low and there are few local churches that can invest large amounts of money to support church planting. The less indigenous the planter, the greater the financial support systems seem to be.

Making “The Ask”

One of the presumed characteristics of the strongest new churches is leadership that spends a copious amount of time fund raising. However, in the context of some cultures, including some streams of African American cultures, asking for money (except for a tithe from one’s congregants) is considered inappropriate. It has nothing to do with generosity. It is simply not dignified to ask. I have heard the declaration “our people don’t beg for money. This is especially challenging in situations where funding organizations require matching funds, or won’t fund projects until some particular amount of money has been raised.

Bi-vocational Ministry

Bi-vocational work is a great first-choice, highly biblical option, but some funding systems won’t support bi-vocational leaders. Others support planters for up to two years, but don’t take it into account that when a planting team has less time to put into a new church (such as bi-vocational teams), it usually take longer to start. The church may require assistance for a longer period of time. That being said, bi-vocational ministry should not be optional for some races while mandatory for others.

Preaching Styles

Clearly there are many kinds of African American churches with all kinds of preaching styles, but there are some traditional preaching distinctives in black churches. These include a different rhythm, a higher degree of congregational participation, a call and response component, and more. When a traditional African American planter sends an out-of-context video, or preaches a 5-minute message to a non-black audience, it may not translate as intended. Some large churches and church planting organizations are looking for particular preaching styles, and others may just not understand. (Many thanks to those who get it!)

Different Budget Needs

When requesting funding, most church planters are required to submit projected budgets. Budget items in African American church plants can differ enough, that either planters decide not to tell the whole story, or simply pay for those budget needs out of their own pocket. For example, out of conviction, as well as historic roots, church planters in low-income communities reach out to the poor. They offer meals, give away groceries and school supplies, visit the elderly in their neighborhoods and advocate for justice. These kinds of activities take additional time and extra money. It is also customary to pay musicians—not just worship leaders, but also others who sing, and play drums or keyboard. I know African American leaders who receive no salary, but pay their musicians. There are no line items in most church planting budgets to include these things.

What am I suggesting?

First, I hope that those of us who work to resource church planters be aware of cultural differences that affect our perceptions of who is fundable. (Greater multi-ethnic representation on funding committees would help here.) Secondly, I suggest that we examine the big picture and ask ourselves why some planters are receiving more funding than others. It is not simply a matter of how gifted they are. Finally, I want to suggest that we be kind. An excellent African American church planter in Oakland, California recently told me that he was on his way to the Atlanta area to visit a major supporting church. I will never forget the look on his face as he told me, “They are kind. This church has been kind to me.” Kindness matters.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Bergquist

Linda Bergquist is a church planting catalyst, coach, teacher, mentor who has been living and working in the Bay Area for 20 years. She works among many ethnic groups, and has a special interest in least reached people groups. Bergquist is an advocate of all kinds of churches and church planting methodologies. She has coauthored two books, Church Turned Inside Out and The Wholehearted Church Planter, and is the author of the Exponential series e-book The Great Commission and the Rest of Creation.

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