The Black Church and Church Planting

The Black Church began with Church Planting and its future will depend on the recovery of this movement of reproduction, empowerment, and mission. I recently met with Dr. Hank Voss, World Impact’s National Director of Church Planting, and Elder Oscar Owens, an associate pastor at West Angeles COGIC. (Church Of God In Christ) Church. COGIC is one of the largest predominately African American denominations. During our visit we discussed a commitment to church planting, the roots of the denomination and the Black Church, more broadly. Until that moment, I had never truly reflected deeply on the Black Church and Church Planting. I must admit that I had seen Church Planting as a mostly White Evangelical endeavor; I figured I was one of the few African Americans that had sensed a deep call to facilitate church planting movements. I thought a large part of my calling was to bring the Spirit and the biblical theology of Church Planting to the Black Church. After my visit with Elder Owens, I realized my calling was more to be one of many voices assisting in helping the Black Church recover a deep part of its heritage and an essential part of its future.

Like me, some have been led to believe that the White Church grows through Church Planting and the Black Church through Church Splitting. Granted, Church Splitting is a reality in a significant segment of the Black Church and also within the history of the White Church, but Church Planting is a major part of the Black Church narrative. There would be no Black Church if not for Church Planting. This heritage of Black Church Planting must be recovered for the future Black Church. The context of how the first Black Churches were planted can serve as a gift to the whole body of Christ, and therefore inform a more missional approach to all Church Planting Movements.

The Black Church in America was birthed in the oppression, affliction, and suffering of slavery. The first Black Churches were planted illegally in the dark woods, away from the eyes and ears of slave owners who questioned if these church planters were even fully human. For Black people, these church plants were much more than simply containing elements of worship, discipleship, and witness. These church plants were the organic spiritual communities in which the oppressed found the courage and strength to fight for personhood, deliverance, and liberation. There was no separation of evangelism and the social gospel in these church plants. Even without formal institutions for credentialing and theological training, Black Churches were still planted. Without committed funding strategies, Black Churches were still planted. I believe these were both evangelistic and missional churches led by the indigenously oppressed of what was supposedly a Christian nation. The oppressed would have to seek a God beyond the God of the slave owners. The oppressed would have to repent to, seek salvation from, and be empowered by a Christ that looked different than the Christ of the slave owners. They had to teach themselves to read and interpret in many cases and yet the Christ they served was more authentic to the Christ of the Scriptures. What a powerful church planting movement.

This Black Church Planting heritage led to Black Churches that were leadership- and community- development centers during Jim Crow segregation. Black colleges, businesses, and social organizations came into existence because of this Black Church Planting heritage. The roots of this church planting movement provided fuel for what would eventually become the Civil Rights Movement.

The roots of Black Church Planting could be the very medicine needed to inject into today’s Black Church, informing the broader body of Christ toward a more biblical and missional understanding. You see, the roots of Black Church Planting aren’t very different from the church planting movements of Scripture. The first Christian Churches were planted under the oppression of the Roman Empire and religious power structures. Saul (before he was Paul) was known as a zealous religious Jew and Roman citizen who persecuted Christian church planters. Biblical Church Planting was done by Jewish, multi-ethnic, multicultural, minorities and oppressed people. The roots of church planting biblically were about evangelism, discipleship, empowerment, and liberation. This is exactly the kind of church planting movement we need in some places today. In many under-resourced nations these types of indigenous movements are already taking place. My own nation must live into this more proactively. In the United States, church planting often appears to begin with the privileged and the resourced in mind. Black Church Planting and biblical church planting seems to begin with the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.

At World Impact we are about facilitating church planting movements among the unreached urban poor in the United States and beyond. We also see the empowerment and training of indigenous leaders as a key part of this endeavor. We believe this is central to biblical church planting – it’s a way to recover the initial church planting DNA of the Black Church as well as some of the European immigrant history of church planting in this nation. 

From Efrem's blog.