What is the history of Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century (SBC21)?

SBC21 resulted from the action of the 1992 General Conference.  It directed the General Council on Ministries (GCOM) to convene a Study Panel of ten persons with two mandates in focus:

  1. Review the effectiveness of general agencies in strengthening the Black Church for period 1972-1993.
  2. Report the findings and make recommendations to the 1996 General Conference “relating to new plans and strategies to strengthen the Black Church into the 21st Century.” 

The Study Panel, chaired by Bishop Woodie White, recommended a new approach to growing the Black Church in the United States.  The Study Panel recommended a specific Plan of Action and Structure for SBC21.  It was approved by the 1996 General Conference. 

What was the Plan of Action?

The plan called for the following: 

  1. The selection of 25 vital congregations to serve as Congregation Resource Centers (CRCs) 
  2. Organized teams of lay and clergy from vital congregations or CRCs to serve as resource persons who share and work in covenant with Partner Congregations (PCs). 
  3. The utilization of geographic-specific and need-specific models to meet the needs of rural, urban and suburban churches. 
  4. A strong intentional focus on laity. 

What is a Congregation Resource Center? 

CRCs are congregations in rural, urban and suburban America characterized by strong clergy and lay leadership, provisions for education, Bible Study and Faith Formation in various small groups, vibrant and varied worship, effective planning and administration and rooted in Wesleyan heritage while embracing their cultural heritage.  CRCs accept the primary task of training and equipping Partner Congregations via Covenant Relationships.  CRCs host Training Events, expose PCs to new ministries, and provide support and follow-up. 

What is a Partner Congregation?

Partner Congregations are local churches who want to become vital.  A team of lay and clergy covenant with a CRC to strengthen their church.  Site evaluations, written reports, visits to a CRC, telephone follow-up, participation in training opportunities like the Great Event guide their journey to becoming vital. 

What governance structure supports the Plan of Action?

The 1996 General Conference created the SBC21 Coordinating Committee to coordinate, evaluate, and implement the Plan of Action.  Charged to keep alive the   congregational focus of the Plan, the committee was requested to pay special attention to the unchurched and crises in the black community.  Additionally, the Coordinating Committee was given responsibility for hiring staff, selecting CRCs and PCs, developing program goals, setting a budget, providing fiscal oversight, establishing covenantal relationships between CRCs and PCs, evaluating the Plan of Action, reporting to GCOM annually, offering key learnings and developing models for local congregations and the whole church, sharing follow up recommendations with General Conference in the year 2000. 

How are members of the SBC21 Coordinating Committee selected?

SBC21 has 23 members.  15 members come from the five jurisdictions in the U.S.A.  Each jurisdictional College of Bishops names 3 persons.  National Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) names 2 persons; and the Council of Bishops names 2 bishops, 2 youth and 2 young adults.  The committee includes laywomen, laymen, and clergy.  Each general agency names a representative (at their expense) to resource the committee.

Which General Boards and Agencies have resourced SBC21?

Church and Society, Discipleship, Global Ministries, Higher Education and Ministry, Pensions and Health Benefits, Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Religion and Race, Status and Role of Women, United Methodist Men, United Methodist Communications, Finance and Administration, Council on Ministries and the United Methodist Publishing House.  The Southeast Jurisdiction Administrative Council provides a resource person as well.

Which General Agency was designated as the place for SBC21’s Administrative Accountability by the 1996 General Conference? 

General Conference directed that the Coordinating Committee report administratively to GCOM:  sharing yearly progress reports and evaluation of the Plan of Action.  Since General Conference assigned the major role of coordinating Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century in the hands of the Coordinating Committee, it made SBC21 accountable to the general agency responsible for coordinating and facilitating the program life of the whole church.  SBC21 is an Initiative of the General Conference and not a General Agency.  The 2004 General Conference voted to disband GCOM effective January 1, 2005.  SBC21 is now housed at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD).

Does SBC21 make Annual Reports to other constituencies? 

Yes, to National BMCR per the instruction of General Conference.

How has SBC21 been funded by the General Conferences of 1996, 2000, and 2004?

SBC21 has been funded from the World Service Fund for three quadrennia but not out of the line item concerning program agency budgets.  Other programs and actions of the General Conference are funded in this manner.

How are SBC21 ministry funds utilized?

SBC21 provides monetary resources to support training events.  CRCs contribute countless volunteer hours.  Plus, a number of CRCs contribute additional financial resources.  PCs:  There is a three-step process involved in the receipt of SBC21 ministry funds. 

1.  Complete and forward a congregational-community profile to SBC21. 

2.  Profile is received and evaluated by SBC21. 

3.  Scholarships are issued by SBC21 to PCs for travel and lodging expenses of the clergy/lay team.

What are the successes of SBC21? 

Congregation Resource Centers are fulfilling their role as the primary places for training lay and clergy teams from Partner Congregations under girded by a Covenant Relationship.  Partner Congregations show a higher incidence of the Ministry of all Christians.  More lay leadership involvement, more creative worship, more small groups, a willingness to strategize and plan ministries for a new day typifies their accomplishments.  Some local churches focus on the unchurched through economic development programs, literacy campaigns, computer literacy laboratories, ministering to and with abused persons, HIV/AIDS, street worship and homeless ministries. 

How many churches have participated?

SBC21 highest goal is to equip as many of the 2,400 Black Congregations in the United Methodist Church. There are close to 1,000 Partner Churches enrolled in the SBC21 Initiative. The mantra of SBC21 is "Christ, Our Center for Hope, Healing, and Wholeness.

Is the SBC21 financial request for 2009-2012 an increase or a decrease over last quadrennium?

Strengthening the Black Church went through the 2009 - 2012 budget process at the joint meeting of the Connectional Table and the General Council on Finance & Administration (May 2007). Strengthening the Black Church was approved for $2,226,000 (6% increase from the current quadrennium of $2,100,000). The 2008 General Conference approved this budget in the GCFA Report #1 of the World Service Fund Budget.

Budget is results/outcome based around the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church. Emphasis on Leadership Development & Church Growth.

  • CRC/PC Model of Ministry (Clergy-Laity partnership)
  • Strengthen Youth & Young Adults
  • Relationship Building with Central Conference & African Congregations
  • Support, Resource New African American Congregations

Why support the SBC21 Initiative?

To increase the number of vital black congregations and help reverse the membership decline in the United Methodist Church.  Methodism has had an African-American presence since its inception.  SBC21 is an Initiative of the whole church supporting the continual inclusion of Black Folk in its life.  Despite the history of slavery, oppression, discrimination and racism, SBC21 celebrates the unique heritage of the Black Church and the contributions still being made.  Christ, Our Center For Hope, Healing and Wholeness calls us to make disciples for him, first to the glory of God and second   on behalf of the people called United Methodists.  In so doing, SBC21 can help revitalize the church.

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