According to a new report released by the British Broadcasting Channel, Britain’s black churches have boomed in size and are about to double in attendance since 15 years back, while the congregations at UK’s white churches have been dropping to the lowest numbers in 200 years.
Oddly, the National Council of Churches has recorded similar trends, as they gathered data to compile the 2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. A mainly black, Pentecostal denomination climbed up the chart to become one of the 25 largest Christian bodies in North America, while the mainline “white” churches such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA experienced a drop in attendance.
One reason for the difference, as expressed by BBC’s Andy Brown, was because of the style of worship each church offered. While in black churches, congregants are encouraged to be fully engaged throughout the service by singing, clapping, dancing and speaking in tongues as they pray; White churches have followed the traditional listening and chanting method of worship.
Another aspect involved the difference in the core beliefs of the church. While mainline White churches, both in the UK and the US, tend to be liberal and “ecumenical,” Black churches are more conservative and evangelical.
This standpoint was clearly visible in the current brawl over homosexuality in the Anglican Church, where the first openly gay bishop was ordained in America last November.
While all the diocese in Western Europe kept silent, 13 dioceses, mainly from the “global south” cried out against the ordination. Among them, the Nigerian Church held the loudest voice, threatening to split from the worldwide communion, and refusing to attend a joint committee attended by the archbishop of the U.S.
According to the Rev. Robert Backfort, black churches are more often about living out the life of the gospel and interpreting the scriptures literally, while the white churches tend to be more “open to interpretation.”
“The black churches have a literal approach to the bible. They believe that it is the word of God, direct from God to humanity, and that from when which you live out your Christian life is to follow word for word, line for line what is within the bible,” said Backfort. “In contrast, more liberal approaches to the bible is going to debate that. So there is always going to be a tension and conflict between black churches who are evangelical, Pentecostal, charismatic and the more liberal white churches just within Britain."
According to another Reverend, Matthew Ashi, white churches need to open up to learn what is good from the black churches.
“In spite of the rate of church decline, when you come close people want to know God,” said Rev. Ashi.
In parts of England, churches are doing just that: bringing together the people of Christian faith without looking at the skin color, but rather focusing on the soul.
“Soul in the City” is a project endorsed by both the white and black churches, in which 40,000 young Christians reach out to London through community projects. Over 500 churches have shown interest in taking part of the event, which will be held over the summer.