African-American Churches Flourish

Article excerpt

Several African-American denominations are among the largest Christian groups in the U.S., according to the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 1993, and the nation's fastest-growing denomination is an African-American one, reports yearbook editor Kenneth B. Bedell, who says that African-American churches "do not receive the attention that they deserve."

Bedell notes that two African-American denominations rank among the country's largest seven denominations, even though much smaller predominantly white churches like the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have a higher media profile. And, he says, six of the nation's 14 largest religious groups have a predominantly African-American membership. The yearbook, published annually by Abingdon Press in Nashville, Tennessee, under the auspices of the National Council of Churches, is a statistical touchstone for U.S. church leaders, containing membership and financial data for churches as well as brief histories and descriptions of each. The new yearbook, the 61st in the series, includes information on 224 U.S. aid 100 Canadian denominations.

Singled out for special attention in the 1993 volume is the predominantly black Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, a Memphis-based church with an estimated membership of 6.3 million. Writes Bedell: "Ask anyone, 'What was the fastest growing religious denomination in the U.S. during the 1980s that has a membership of over 1 million?' If they guess the Assemblies of God (the denomination of high-profile televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker), they are naming the highly visible, largely white denomination that grew about one-third as fast during the 1980s and has less than half as many members as the Church of God in Christ denomination."

In an essay titled "The Explosive Growth of the African-American Pentecostal Church," Sherry Sherrod DuPree and Herbert C. DuPree state that "with a combination of dynamic worship and social outreach, African-American Pentecostal churches have surged in the past decade." According to the authors, the Church of God in Christ has averaged gains of nearly 200,000 members and 600 congregations per year since 1982, making it the fastest-growing major U.S. denomination in the 1980s and the fifth-largest. The largest is the Roman Catholic Church, with 58.3 million members; next are the Southern Baptist Convention with 15.2 million, the United Methodist Church with 8.8 million, and another African-American body, the 8-million-member National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. To underscore their point, the authors cite several other examples of high growth in the ranks of African-American Pentecostalism, a movement that traces its roots to a 1906 revival in Los Angeles and is distinguished by lively worship services that include energetic dancing and speaking in tongues: * West Los Angeles Church of God in Christ gained more than 2,000 members in 1990 and now has a membership of more than 8,000. * World Changers Ministries in the Atlanta suburb of College Park, described as an independent charismatic church, grew by 3,250 members in 1990 to reach a total of 4,500 that year. * Deliverance Evangelistic Church, founded in 1960 in a Philadelphia house, has 83,000 members in 32 congregations, mostly in major cities along the East Coast.

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