Home Review of "New Wine, New Wineskins: How African American Congregations Can Reach New Generations"

Review of "New Wine, New Wineskins: How African American Congregations Can Reach New Generations"

New WineNew Wine, New Wineskins
by F. Douglas Powe Jr.
Abingdon, 2012

As a church consultant, I hear a recurring question, "Are there any church growth books for Black churches?"

Typically, the number of available resources that fit the bill can be counted on one hand. About every five to six years, publishers release a book specifically focused on African American church growth. In the nineties, you could find books such as African American Church Growth by Carlyle Fielding Steward III or Church Planting in the African American Context by Hozell Francis. In 2006, a few other books hit the market: Growing the African American Church by multiple authors and Church Growth from an African American Perspective by Donald Hilliard Jr. In some cases, the books focused on key steps to take or strategies to employ.

New Wine, New Wineskins, however, follows a less traveled path. Author F. Douglas Powe Jr. looks under the hood of the typical evangelistic approaches used by churches in the African American community to discover why the underlying assumptions behind an approach may cause more harm than good. In Chapter One, Powe punctures the long-standing presumption that the African American community is monolithic. Like other cultures, the black community divides along generational, economic, and political lines. What is interesting about Powe's analysis is his reframing of the generational study Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Onto their categories, Powe layers interpretive insight from an African American perspective.

What readers may find most helpful are the generational endowments Powe mentions. For example, the Civil Rights generation (born between 1921 and 1940) endowed us with models of black male leadership inside and outside the church -- a paradigm from which the community still reaps benefits. Leaders from the Civil Rights generation recognized the need to combine the spirituality of the church with social improvement through political action.

The Black Consciousness generation left an endowment of empowerment from within the black community. The Integrationist generation signals a shift from a primarily homogenous black community to a stratified community scattered into various communities, schools, and positions of employment. With this stratification comes new challenges as the church is no longer the de facto center of the black community, nor is Christianity the default preference for religious expression. Many want to develop spirituality, but do not believe that church membership ensures such growth.

The Hip Hop generation presents another major shift in community focus. This generation is capitalist, focusing on the economic side of the American dream. The church type most relevant to this generation is the mega-congregation.

Clearly, no single evangelistic approach that appeals to the perceived needs of previous generations will be effective in today's radically different environment.

Following his generational analysis, Powe implores congregations to examine the assumptions that fuel evangelistic efforts. Are the tactics based on the presumption that today's community will respond to the messages that appealed to the Civil Rights or Black Consciousness generations? Who in the church is willing to explore change and pour new wine into new wineskins? What theological emphasis speaks with greatest relevancy to this generation? How shall the church operate now to signal its intent to address the world as it is rather than the world seen in the rearview mirror?

The latter part of the book guides readers through a plethora of provocative questions aimed at preparing a congregation to engage the post-civil rights generation. What will worship look like? What does spiritual vitality mean and how will we work toward it? What do we need to rethink in order to be relevant to the upcoming generation? These types of questions start the conversations.

Any church wanting to reach today's post-civil rights black community needs to read this book. It is sure to stimulate rigorous conversation and honest soul searching. The end result of intergenerational discussion can be fruitful ministry that draws many into relationship with Jesus Christ.

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Kwasi Kena, the former Director of Evangelism at Discipleship Ministries, is now an Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry at the Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, Indiana.