Monday, March 16, 2009
A New Agenda
The shockwaves from the recent economic crisis have been so far reaching that even some of the most stable and largest African American churches have not been immune from severe and catastrophic damage.
The historic 140 year old Metropolitan Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. led by the venerable Dr. H. Beecher Hicks one of Ebony Magazine's 15 greatest preachers in America, recipient of a Doctor of Ministry from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, MBA from George Washington University and Post Doctoral Fellowship at Harvard University finds itself homeless after selling its church in Washington and finding financing for it's partially completed new $30 million campus dried up.
Foreclosures and delinquencies for church mortgages, which historically are one of the most safe and solid loans made by lenders, while not at the level of the private home epidemic, are dramatically increasing. Tight credit has affected lending to churches of all types and sizes, however the devastation is more dramatic when the debt and the church are both mega-sized.
Many of the largest African American churches, like Metropolitan, are providing tremendous ministry and service to the community, but I think that their financial difficulties get our attention and the crisis brings along several lessons that will benefit us for the future.
Most importantly I think that it is a reminder for us to be careful to not continue to get caught up in the bigger is better mentality and bling of prosperity and materialism that the recent black church experience paralleled and shared with that of the secular society.
The failures and difficulties also reawaken us to the value of the ministry of the small church. Small churches, which are more numerous, are able to provide a more intimate, caring, family or more personalized fellowship while also having the flexibility to get things done quickly without peeling through layers of bureaucracy or lengthy debate.
Larger churches have an advantage in the size and scope of ministry that they can provide but small churches can perform quality ministry as well except in fewer areas.
Mega churches have a larger pool to choose from when selecting staff and has more money to obtain trained ministers and administrators. However, a small church which is knowledgeable and creative in obtaining funding can also select quality trained staff but on a smaller scale.
Perhaps the biggest difference, according to Richard H. Bliese, is that small churches can go places and risk ministries that larger churches find undesirable or impossible. They can more easily speak out and become active on controversial issues while the strength of larger churches is in the adeptness to tap into technologies, cultural norms, and trends.
Dr. Renita Weems in a 2005 Ebony article aptly points out that it was in the small churches in small Southern towns and cities like Montgomery and Selma, Alabama that the majestic civil rights battles played out.
It could be that the black church is being reconfigured to once again provide a context to bring social issues that "address the consciousness, realities, and urgencies of contemporary 21st century life" to its agenda. That would then be a rediscovery of a new agenda and its true mission.