What is “Contemporary” in the African-American Church Community?

When I lectured at the National Association of Broadcasters Conference in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, the administrator of a large African American church in the South asked me an interesting question.  In the context of “contemporary” churches, you might find Ed Young, Bil Cornelius, Perry Noble, Erwin McManus, or Greg Groeschel.  These are guys who generally preach in casual clothes, understand marketing, are savvy with technology, and yet still preach a Christ centered message.  They’re also White.  She asked,
“But what about African-American churches?  Is there a category of “contemporary” African-American churches?  Do any Black pastors – even contemporary ones – preach in casual clothes?  Do they conduct services that would be similar to these pastors mentioned above?”  It’s an interesting question.  It’s not an issue or right or wrong.  I wonder if it points to a cultural difference?   Particularly for my African-American readers – what are some examples of the most contemporary (non-traditional) Black pastors and churches out there?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • tm

    As a middle-class young white guy… my guess is that the 'black church' no matter where, size, etc. is still formal across the board b/c they hold the reverence of Sunday morning service closer than the young white culture does. Simple as that.

    To some extent, I think this is a disturbing trend for the church in general (nothing new). I rarely wear anything but jeans to church now, but I really appreciate the reverence that the protestant churches still hold during their services.

    I think to much is done in the name of being relevant to the culture, and this is one that has gone a little far. It's not like I'm saying it's a sin or something, I just think that the value in revering the place of worship has been lost.

  • tm,

    I'd say the dress code in predominantly African American is largely an issue of social norms/cultural relevance.  And, if reverence is a result of dress, none of us can dress nice enough.  And, if we can dress nice enough, we will only be able to revere God in relation to how much cash we have on hand….doesn't seem to be a reasonable pursuit to worship/reverence.

    With that said, I don't know that we can equate contemporary with casual dress in the African American church….not that that answers Phil's question

  • Postscript

    I was talking with Tim Clinton, President of the American Association of Christian Counselors, when he mentioned that T.D. Jakes had told him the suits and the bling were a necessary part of reaching the African American Christian audience.  That if he didn't show that he was successful, then his people wouldn't follow him.  Does that say something about the cultural place African Americans have been placed in our society?  And does casual dress mean "contemporary"?

    I think there are some new thinkers in the Black church – but perhaps not as "reformed" as many of the "contemporary" churches – but reaching out in new ways or new messages.  People like Deron Cloud have challenged young African Americans with drama involving popular culture.

  • On a totally sidebar issue, perhaps the bigger question is why are we pursuing and accommodating church services and congregations were color, while usually unadvertised, is the dividing line?

  • Bart Breen

    That's a difficult question.

    I don't think that churches create that division so much as they reflect the state of affairs in our society. 

    Worship styles, preaching styles, dress, social activities etc are all outward symbols that communicate inwardly held values and norms.  In the theological sense, God is to the center of focus.  In a social sense the attraction these different mores hold is deeply personal and cultural.

    There are usually unstated values in every congregation and usually, unless there is a deliberate effort on the part of Church leadership with the support of key members (the informal leaders in the group) to create a congregation that is racially mixed, it doesn't happen unless the church itself is located in a racially mixed and progressive area and thus can reflect its local community.

    Even then, again usually, congregations that achieve this tend to be more affluent economically and better educated and thus less susceptable to the typical prejudices that may be more present in the lower social and economic demographics.  The irony then is that while that Church appears to be more progressive and and in some ways it is, there are other sociological barriers erected and people who don't fall into the economic and social strata are not integrated as well.

    My observations and thoughts anyway.