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by Morak Babajide-Alabi
Living in the west as a Christian, you probably have been asked one time or the other if you attend a “black church”. Your first thought is to ask if the questioner had seen something negative in your character or behaviour and think maybe you attend a gathering where black magic is being practiced or where some sinister things happen in the cover of the night. This is far from the meaning, though.
The term, widely accepted in the United Kingdom, is a definition of churches, led and mainly populated by black people. The funny aspect of this is that blacks also describe their churches as this. At many points in the past, I have used the term in conversations with friends, colleagues or family members. When colleagues at work volunteer to follow you to church, you have to stand them at alert that you attend a “black church.” This is a natural defence mechanism so they don’t get disappointed when they get to the church and do not see anybody they could relate to.
What is the hue and cry about black church? The reason has been that the black church, in a fast changing UK society, has refused to diversify. While all sections of the society are making efforts to move from segmentation, either by race, colour or ethnicity, the black church has simply refused to flow along. The existence of “black churches” in the country dated back to many years, but there has been a massive explosion in their number at the turn of the millennium. This came as a surprise to the “traditional” British Christians, who could not grasp the “idea” of this new wave of Christianity. As a result the church was torn down the middle and it started being identified by race rather than the “message”. It was an easy way to label and differentiate the solely white churches from the new generation and sometimes, to them, strange black churches.
Churches such as KICC, RCCG, Winners Chapel, Christ Chapel etc strategically went into massive church planting bringing the “black church” directly to the front door of the British. Majority could not come to terms with this new wave of Pentecostalism exported from Africa, and now visible in every corner of UK cities. A few white garment churches had operated in inner London well before this time, but apart from their costumes, they were rarely visible.
The church, as represented by Jesus Christ, is supposed to be colour blind, preach same gospel with the message of repentance, salvation, and eternity. As a result the bible is universal, with the same story that is understood by any one in any part of the globe; no matter the language it is written. In Mark 16:15, we read: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”.
But is this the reality? Many immigrants have worshipped in white-only churches before and the reception not as welcoming as you would expect in a Christian setting. Apart from the questioning eyes in the congregation, they had to contend with enquiries about their faith. No matter how hard they tried, they could not blend in. Surprisingly, the black church of today is not different from the white church of the 90s or early 2000s. This reality got to me sometimes ago trying to figure out why the Nigerian exported churches are filled with only black faces. A look at the membership of the RCCG and others across the UK will tell you same story. When an odd white face strolls into any of the parishes, it does not take long before he goes missing, not to come back again.
Has the “black church” been so carried away and failed to realise it might not be as inclusive as Jesus would want? Why have the churches not been able to break into the local communities their parishes operate in? Are these churches unconsciously alienating themselves? One deception that is being sold by the African churches is that there has been reverse evangelism by bringing Christianity back to where it originated. But to be honest, can they really say what they are doing is bringing Christianity back to the west? When the missionaries of old came to Africa, they took Christianity to all corners of the cities they visited. They did not establish churches where only people of like colours or “linguistic” semblance worship together. The opposite is the case for the new generation “evangelists”. The fact is, they have succeeded in finding a similar “home” for their members who are sojourning abroad.
Many of the Nigerian churches have succeeded in replicating their home parishes in UK cities. They sing same set of songs, do everything the same way it is done in Nigeria. While it is convenient and suitable (or familiar) for a Nigerian or Ghanaian settled or just arrived in the UK to find a home in any RCCG parish, it is a big task for the locals, in whose society these churches operate.
Many of these black churches have given up on the primary purpose of Christianity. What we have nowadays are meeting places for people of same ethnicity and same colour. It has become a gathering of people bound together by all sorts of things but not the primary purpose of the church. This is why it has become so hard for people who are not of the same ethnicity to fit into the system. Only a few of these black churches in the UK are making any headway in the localities they operate from. As a matter of fact when the locals see the members pour in to their streets every Sunday, they marvel at the opulence displayed. Some of the churches have become places for members to socialise and show off their newly sewn African attires.
There are numerous unchurched people living around these venues that are not touched by the activities of the black churches. While they probably may be interested in their salvation, they have not been afforded the opportunity. The type of arrogance that pervades in these churches is that the locals should walk in by themselves and be saved. They are not engaged, and no effort is made for them to be integrated into the church.
These black churches, as a first step, have to engage the local community, by taking the “message” to them. It will take a bit of efforts, but, we are told, with God, nothing is impossible. Rather than do this, the average black church wait for members of their ethnic groups to walk in and blend with brothers and sisters. Until this practice stops the black church will continue to cater only to the black community and population. The black church in the UK has to grow with the society they operate in. They have to become cross cultural ambassadors for Christ’s sake.
As published in the Sunday Vanguard, August 27, 2017