FIRST-PERSON: Churches that 'blossom & thrive'

by Gabriel C. Stovall, posted Thursday, June 01, 2017 (6 months ago)

ATLANTA (BP) -- True enough, the black church culture has its own unique way of worship that speaks to its African roots.

One of the misconceptions some African American churches and pastors have about connecting with the still-predominantly-white Southern Baptist Convention, however, is that Southern Baptists want us to change our worship styles to look more like so-called "white churches."

That couldn't be further from the truth.

Black churches can be as expressive and as demonstrative in worship as they want to be while also being missional-minded and community-driven in ministry.

The hard truth that all of us have to realize -- whether black, white or any other ethnicity -- is that churches, whether new plants or older ones that need fresh wind, will likely not blossom and thrive until they are making intentional concerted efforts to look more like the communities they're planted in.

Nobody has all the answers, but here are a few ways I've found -- as well as others around me -- to start making that connection, whether you're a pastor who is planting a fresh work or you're leading a re-planting/revitalizing effort in an established congregation.

Go to school

No, I'm not talking about getting another seminary degree. I mean getting connected to schools that are in or near your community and becoming partners in education with them. Elementary, middle or high school doesn't really matter.

What does matter is that when you go speak with school leadership, you do so showing them a plan that gives them a glimpse of how their schools can be made better by your ministry's presence. That can look like anything from mentoring and tutoring, to providing school supplies or even just buying teachers juice and donuts during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Go to church

Whether you're a church plant or a pastor in revitalization mode, you'll find that you will be putting some of the same muscles to work. Part of that muscle is finding other established churches that may have a desire to partner with the building of a new work.

You'll be surprised by how many established churches will jump at the chance to be locally missional by lending some of their resources and prayers to help push back lostness in your area. Fortunately, not everyone has been bitten by the bug of competition.

Go to jail

Having been a prison chaplain myself, and being connected to several who still serve in prison ministry, I can assuredly say that one thing chaplains want inmates to have when they get on the outside is a good church ministry to connect to. Prisons of all sizes are clamoring for dedicated no-nonsense people who will treat prisons as mission fields.

And once you make connections with some of these individuals, you never know how God will continue that connection once on the outside.

Go outside

As in, take your ministry outside. Have a cookout, set up some speakers outside of your worship facility and let people see and hear your ministry on a Sunday morning (make sure you check the sound ordinances in your area first, though!)

Be prepared with flyers and other things that give interested people helpful info on how to connect to your ministry. Also have folks trained and ready to connect with others in prayer and sharing the Gospel if the door opens.

Go shop

Pastor, you and some of your key leaders will benefit from becoming a regular at local eateries, stores, shops and businesses in your area. Don't go in immediately carrying your Bible and quoting Scriptures. Make it obvious that you just want to immerse in the community through these places.

You'll be surprised at the conversations and interactions that will naturally spring forth from this. And, from there of course, you can begin to build relationships that are authentic and don't feel forced or contrived.

And it's no coincidence, of course, that the common denominator word in all of these is "Go" (Matthew 28:18-20).

Gabriel C. Stovall, online at GabrielCStovall.com, is senior pastor of Butler Street Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward community and a state missionary for church planting and church revitalization in the metro Atlanta area through the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He also serves as the mission board's Baptist campus ministries pastor at Clayton State University in Morrow, Ga. This column is republished from his website and The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
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