This past week in Nashville, Tennessee a historic event took place. African American church planters from several denominations gathered to strategize about church planting in African American communities. The conference came about as a direct result of the extensive study on African American church planting conducted by LifeWay Research. While the study is dozens of pages long, the basic premise is that African American church planters and their congregations face particular challenges that have yet to be adequately addressed. This conference serves as one way to address those challenges.
Here are a few of my reflections from the inaugural African American Church Planting Initiative conference (AACPI).
I Enjoyed the Interdenominational Flavor.
The most memorable aspect of the entire conference for me was its interdenominational character. People from several denominations gathered to plan it, and the event itself was hosted at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) of the United Methodist Church. I met a church planter from the Four Square denomination, a first for me. I also met Presbyterians and Methodists who were planting churches in various locations. And, in another first for me, I met women who were serving as church planters and pastors.
A Spirit of Cooperation Pervaded
Despite our theological differences, a spirit of cooperation pervaded the two-day conference. Everyone seemed genuinely glad to meet and interact with the other attendees and all the presenters were met with grace and acceptance no matter their denominational affiliation. Some friendly jibes were inserted here and there, but that only contributed to the amiability and joviality of the event. We were all there to talk about church planting, and we could cooperate on this subject.
We Had A Shared Cultural Language and Concern
It has often been my experience that whenever African Americans get around each other it feels almost like a family reunion. Although you may have never met each other or it has been years since your last interaction, we have such a shared historical and cultural experience that it feels like you’ve been good friends for years. Even though African Americans as a people group are not monolithic, we have enough in common as minorities with a particular background in this country to speak a shared heart language. At AACPI, we all had heavy hearts and high hopes to see reformation in African American communities through church planting. That concern for African American church planting comes from a shared cultural perspective and faith.
The Presentations Topics Were Well-Chosen and Informative
The brief conference featured several plenary speakers and two workshop sessions. Dr. Carl F. Ellis, Jr. started us off with his session entitled, “The Role of Culture in Church Planting: An African American Perspective.” Afterwards, a panel consisting of seven or eight speakers was held on the general topic of African American church planting. Next, the boisterous Dr. Ed Stetzer gave an informative overview of the LifeWay study on African American church planting. Then Rev. Alex Shipman (PCA) closed out the evening with a sermon called, “Ministering to the Church Planter’s Heart”. The next day was comprised of two workshop sessions. I chose to attend Rev. Howard Brown’s (PCA) presentation on “Worship Music in African American Churches”. Lastly, I sat in Byron Johnson’s class on fundraising for African American church planters. The entire event was punctuated by musical worship that made it seem like a Sunday.
You Should Catch the Conference Next Year!
I have no doubt that all the conference attendees will want this event to be held next year. The planners did an excellent job organizing it. Even the food was well-done. Most importantly, the African American Church Planting Initiative conference has begun in earnest an urgent conversation that needs to keep going. How do we plant more African American churches? It is a complex question that cannot be answered by a single group or denomination, but AACPI is part of the solution.