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.


Vérité Parlant said...

This is an important aspect of the foreclosure story that we aren't hearing. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

underOvr (aka The U) said...

Hi Revvy Rev,

Once again, you provide an informative post that speaks to a current issue which has a "ripple effect" in the African American community.

For some, "Mega" has come to be the standard bearer for the church. God willing, may ministry remain the purpose and goal.


Mista Jaycee said...

Double R,
Nice article and I love your research. I think it also provides a look inside the spiritual mind where the church has followed the model of the world. Our focus was not kept on the ministry of people but in gaining a larger church, attracting more affluence but the reason we needed a larger church was because we wanted to serve more people and have more resources. It blew up on us.
God Bless!

Anonymous said...

Hey Rev.

I'd just like to co-sign what Verite just said. This is really, really sad. And as you point out, when a church goes under the ripple effect is much more than just economic.

Hagar's Daughter said...

You said a mouthful. I pray that those churches that leaned toward prosperity gospel will return to the root of the gospel message - love and justice.

Revvy Rev said...

@ VP, D, U, JC, HD: The effects of the storm are quite far reaching, even extending to nonprofits who are also more needed now than ever. But there is no doubt in my mind that the churches, nonprofits, and the nation will come out of this with the testimony that we are "stronger, wiser, and much better...never could have made it without God."

SjP said...

Every day we learn of yet another "little known" victim of this economic crisis. Where and when will it all end. Surely, we can't go on like this much longer. said...

Hi there!

I think that the conditions in the economy can not explain all that has happened.

For example, the news reports indicate that Metropolitan Baptist sold their church to a cult (Unity DC).

Read the doctine of Unity IS NOT a Christian church.

God will not be made a fool of.

Sometimes, these consequences come upon some of these church leaders for a reason that they haven't admitted to.

We need to focus on God's will and not applaud those who want to compete with who has the largest complex...

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

msladydeborah said...

This is a great post Revvy!

There are a lot of important lessons that can be drawn from the experiences that you have highlighted.

My mother put up a major resistance to the idea of taking a second note on her house to finance a church based project. She was almost finished paying for her house at that time. Her Bishop pushed the idea for months. Many of the people in the church were prepared to do as requested. The plan never got up off the ground because the proposed site had environmental issues. That type of financial base is not good business for the individuals or for the church.

I am sorry to learn that Rev. Hicks and the Metropolitan Church family hit on hard times. I knew his parents. The ministry they foundated here in Columbus is really an amazing spiritual force in our community. From the information given about Metropolitan, their outreach programs were on the same level. But, in Columbus the location of the church has not moved. There was a lot of early investment in the upgrading of the structure. Staying still and growing up to reach outward is not always done in large spaces. I hope and pray that things work out for this body.

I am a member of a Presbyterian body. I joined to learn more about how to foundate and operate effective outreach ministries. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned is about financial planning in the process. We did a major rennovation project. The congregation funded the first couple of million dollars. It was a slow process. No dinners, bake sales or additional offerrings were done. Just a steady cash flow into the account earmarked for the project. We did not see any of the work start until we hit the designated money goal. There was a lot of pre-planning and lessons given to the body about how the money aspect of building worked. I have to say that the lessons are ones that many other churches should be considering.

This whole economic crisis is showing us how much we do not know about business. It is also showing us how misconceptions and greed work hand in hand. I am from the city of some very well known mega-ministries. They do mega sized fundraising everyday of the week. They also cross the line by asking for cash for "special prayers" etc. That is not the business of the church. It has become the business of the church because of the need to pay for the church.

I would not hesistate to advise any pastor or body to seek wise advice about the money health of their church. I have been exposed to a lot of good information at my church on personal and church related finanaces. Right now we need our pillars to be standing oh so fierecely in our communities. Not crumpling because of their economic status.