One of the things that puzzled me growing up, and still puzzles me today, is how devastated and broken many African American communities are although there are a huge number of local churches across America. I often wondered why there were churches where so many people who claim to be changed and transformed had no effect on the community around them. Before we dive in, I’d like to emphasize that this is not a sweeping indictment of all black churches. In fact, there are many places of worship where members are doing their part in a variety of ways to glorify God’s kingdom. However, we can’t deny the fact that there are many street corners in the African American community where crime, violence, and poverty run rampant while the church does nothing, so, here are seven revealing reasons why the black church isn’t more influential in the community.
Reason #1: Failure to Make Faith and Life Intersect
We hear a lot about how Jesus died and rose again but we don’t often hear how this affects us in our everyday lives. How do the scriptures inform our marriages? How do the scriptures inform our economics? These are just examples of what is left out in most black churches on Sunday morning. There needs to be more of an understanding of how faith and life intersect.
Reason #2: Systemic Injustice
The primary culprit behind the Church’s lack of influence in the community is plain, old systemic injustice. Black communities in the inner city are the way they are because of decisions that were made years ago. Whether it was poor and inadequate housing or the choice to build freeways over thriving neighborhoods, most of the problems boil down to systemic injustice.
Reason #3: Church Hypocrisy
Another reason why the Church is not effectively helping the black community is because of widespread hypocrisy. Many people are in church on Sunday but the Church is not in them throughout the rest of the week. Sadly, there are some closed-minded “regulars” in the Church that are wreaking havoc on the black community. And as a result of this, many people in the community opt not to attend church for anything other than pacifying their relatives on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter.
Reason #4: No Leadership Pipeline
There is also a case to be made for a lack of leadership. Many older preachers and other leaders have held on to their positions and are not training the next generation to replace them. It never occurs to them that not only will they have someone to succeed them when they’re gone, but they will be able to multiply their efforts in the present through the recruiting and training of younger leaders.
Reason #5: Lack of Connection with Youth
Another reason why the church is not more influential in the black community is because it is not willing to tip over its sacred cows. Traditions are not to be tampered with in the eyes of leadership and older members of these churches. What they are failing to understand is that many of these traditions are irrelevant to young people, which can get in the way of effective ministry.
Reason #6: Pie in the Sky Mentality
One of the things that you will sometimes notice in the black church is a pie in the sky mentality. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Everything’s going to be alright when we get to Heaven. Why do anything now?” Now, there is nothing wrong with aiming for Heaven. In fact, author C.S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you will get neither.” But seeking Heaven is to aggressively act as instruments of God’s kingdom here and now. Seeking Heaven is not an excuse to be passive. When heaven just becomes the reason we don’t do anything that’s being too heavenly minded they are no earthly good.
Reason #7: Lack of Vision
The final thing that stops black churches from affecting the community is that there is no vision for anything beyond Sunday morning. As long as the tithes are paid and the people are running around shouting, then we can all go home and say “We’ve had church.” This is a far cry from Jesus’ exhortation to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-15).
So, there you have it. And just to be clear, this is not to bash the black church. This is an autopsy of what needs to happen if we are going to see true and lasting change. African Americans are the most devout and religious group in the United States and so this remains a challenge as we seek to show that Jesus is the hope of the world.
How about you? What reasons would you add to this list?