Pen-Del’s Black Churches Gather to Reimagine and Revitalize

December 08, 2022

By Melissa Lauber
 
If churches are to be truly vital, they must move beyond an attitude of surviving and instead adopt mission, ministry and mindsets geared toward thriving, said the Rev. Jackie Ford. To do that, congregations need to adopt missional action plans that allow them to “take the next faithful step.”
 
Ford, the director of Connectional Ministries for the Peninsula-Delaware Conference, and the Rev. Lester Justice, the conference’s director of Strengthening the Black Church, hosted a webinar on Dec. 3 for African-American church leaders to help them discover these next steps as they “Gather to Grow and Scatter to Serve.”
 
The online conversation was led by the Rev. Dr. Michael Bowie, director of the denomination’s Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century, who walked the 82 participants through insights and methods to reimagine, repurpose and revitalize their congregations.
 
“Our ancestors survived so we could thrive,” Bowie said. But the disruptions of the pandemic and a challenging sense that the church is increasingly irrelevant among young people has caused too many in the black church, and the denomination at large, to forget God is always doing something new.
 
“Stop rehearsing your past; start reimagining your present; seek to refresh your vision,” Bowie emphasized.
 
In the past three years, there has a been a major, God-inspired shift, Bowie said. “The church now has no other purpose but to look out and focus on our communities. The community has become our new congregation.”
 
For many churches, this requires a shift in their ways of thinking and acting. However, Bowie said, discipleship starts and flourishes in the community. This means stepping out and intentionally engaging. “We must begin to possess a deeper level of faith in the unfamiliar, trust in the unknown, and have a radical obedience to the uncertain.”
 
But how do we reclaim our rich history while moving forward to the bright future God has for us,” Bowie asked. The answer, he said, varies, but each congregation needs to adopt the “Sankofa (Bird) Principle” of looking back to the past to bring forward that which is useful.
 
He also advised creating new partnerships with the Holy Spirit, investing deeply in technology, and entering into meaningful ministry with those in Generation Z, who were born between 1996 and 2010, and are now 26 percent of the US population.
 
“We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Bowie emphasized.
 
To become relevant to young people, the church “needs to refresh its vision and change our focus,” said Bowie, who likened the church’s current situation to a person with dirty glasses.
 
“When was the last time you cleaned your ministry lenses,” he asked. “We need to see better the unlimited possibilities God has for us. … Our obstacles can become opportunities.
If we’re missing anything, we’re missing vision; and once God gives us vision, there is always provision. Vision draws resources.”
 
For more information, contact the Rev. Lester Justice, director of the Conference’s Strengthening the Black Church at ljustice@pen-del.org.