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'The People Nobody Wanted'

Pollster George Barna and pastor Harry Jackson team up to explore what makes black churches tick.

God raised up this thing called the black church," says Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., pastor of 3,000-member Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., and co-author of a recent book with George Barna titled High-Impact African-American Churches (Regal Books). "It was God who took a group of people who, in a sense, nobody wanted."

The book combines a decade's worth of Barna's research with insights into the inner-workings of some of the nation's most vibrant African American churches. Not only do the authors hope the book offers a window of understanding into the African American Christian experience, but also explains how their faith became so vibrant.

Barna conducted three nationwide surveys in 1996 of 800 adults, 400 pastors and 254 teens, followed by smaller studies each year until the book's completion. He found that African American adults were more likely to be born again than their white counterparts and that the top-rated goal among black adults is to have a close relationship with God, while the same objective was ranked fifth by whites.

African Americans also were nearly twice as likely to read their Bibles during a typical week and more than twice as likely to fast during any given week. And, oddly, though African Americans' average income is substantially less than whites, the typical black church raises more money for ministry than the typical white church.

Barna says "the depth of the perceived significance of faith in the lives of most black people" is what surprised him most. He says his Barna Group interviews thousands of Christians every year, analyzing the role that faith plays in their lives.

"For African Americans in this country, they resonate with struggle, suffering and persecution and the need for perseverance that Jesus demonstrated in His life," Barna says.

In addition to faith, the black church also has become central in the lives of most African American Christians, Barna finds. Not only are black churches centerpoints for relationships, teaching and shared experiences, as Barna notes, but high-impact black churches, or the new black church, as Jackson calls it, are places where there is "an integration between their faith and politics and economic development. They don't see that these things are separated in any way, and that concept is so different from how the church at large sees itself."

High Impact highlights many of the unique characteristics of African American ministry and leadership, with chapters dedicated to such issues as evangelism, discipleship and stewardship, and an appendix profiling eight "high impact" African American ministries.

Jackson adds that despite his involvement in ministry among African Americans, he was surprised by Barna's data on the level of evangelism found in many black churches. "The black church uses its worship and the style of preaching that, teamed with that community outreach, has become a formidable evangelistic tool," Jackson says.

Barna says the book's insights into ministry methodology serve as a small part of a much bigger picture. "Really, the objective of the book is to say: 'You know what, black churches and black people have learned something about that process [of becoming more Christlike] that white people don't know, and Hispanic people don't know and Asian people don't know. So, here's a window into their experience that may help us be more complete in our faith and our expression of it.'"
Adrienne S. Gaines

BOOKS

Drawing Near
By John Bevere
(Nelson Books)

Hurried. Overworked. Stressed out. Sadly, our hectic lifestyles often drive us away from the very antidote for our dilemma. In Drawing Near: A Life of Intimacy With God, John Bevere reminds readers of God's pursuit of mankind and His longing for an intimate relationship with us. Drawing upon numerous biblical examples, Drawing Near reveals the passionate heart of the Father--One who is longing for us to come closer and go deeper.

Readers will find themselves being stirred and challenged, at times repentant and contrite as Bevere in his conversational writing style invites them to have a hunger for God's presence.

Unfortunately, writes Bevere: "[God's] waiting to satisfy us, yet His goodness will not satisfy us if we are already full of other things. Let's keep our hearts hungry."

This is not another "how to" book to fill our libraries. Intimacy can never be a step-by-step process. Instead, Drawing Near is meant to be a treasure map leading to the heart of God. It is a guide for this adventure as we discover or rediscover why God wants to have a relationship with us, ways to attract His attention, the reward of cultivating a passion for His presence and the work of the Holy Spirit in nurturing the language of intimacy with the Father.

Bevere writes: "It seems to be God's pattern to make a step toward us, and if we respond, He takes another and draws close. If we don't respond, He does not push His way in."

Too many settle for loving the work of the Lord. Bevere encourages us to fall passionately in love again with the Lord of the work.
Billy Burns

The Great 'Outdoors'

Four resources for understanding--and reaching--the world outside the walls of the church.

Let's face it: the pastor's study can become something of an isolation chamber. So, when you find yourself in need of a broader perspective, one or more of these books may help you sift through the shifting sands of culture and keep your ministry focused on the world to which God sent you.

In Preaching to a Shifting Culture (Baker Books), Scott M. Gibson edits a series of chapters by top-drawer evangelical preachers, including Haddon Robinson, Bryan Chapell and Don Sunukjian.

'The authors help us understand the minds of postmodern audiences, and they explain and illustrate how to preach to today's audience without watering down biblical truth.

The main purpose of this collection is to help preachers reach "listeners with power, conviction, and authenticity." The authors address the nuts and bolts of the study, structure and shape of sermons and assure us that relevance to what may seem to be a hostile world is not impossible.

Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson challenge readers to apply this same philosophy to the entire ministry of the church in The Externally Focused Church (Group Publishing). They build on the key question that every church should ask: "Would the community miss us, or even notice, if we closed?"

The authors argue that congregational and community transformations occur by living "eternal truth with an external focus." They present as examples successful ministries that fund, motivate volunteers and partner with other agencies to help leaders learn how to involve people in service rather than mere activities.

Guiding congregations toward such care and partnership with every tribe is made practical in God's Neighborhood (InterVarsity Press) by Scott Roley, with James Isaac Elliott.

Roley left his musical career and entered a pastoral position in a disadvantaged neighborhood. Readers looking for more than pontification on the need for racial reconciliation will find encouragement in the author's personal testimony as one who is striving toward it.

As Roley writes, "The journey of our hearts into racial reconciliation and community renewal ... is a moment-to-moment decision to place faith and trust in Christ."

In his new book The Volunteer Revolution (Zondervan) Bill Hybels taps into a trend that secular culture seems to have embraced of late--and applies it to the church in a biblical and relevant manner.

He argues that the traditional paradigm of ministry leadership must be adjusted from the pulpit to the pew. Hybels combines his years of successful experience with a sound biblical case for involving all saints in ministry. Rather than allowing the word "ministry" to mean "paid staff," he reinforces the crucial concept of a "congregation of volunteers."

Willow Creek's examples allow readers to see workable methods. Hybels includes key lessons for launching volunteer service, offering practical suggestions about how to motivate and appreciate volunteers.
Chris Maxwell

TECHNOLOGY

Your Digital Assistant

It won't replace a church administrator, but this new software will make managing events a snap.

Once upon a time, church ministry was fairly straightforward: You preach, visit, pray and encourage. But not so today. The average church staff person in the 21st century has a list of responsibilities that would make most CEOs cringe.

On a personal level, I remember being struck by the "revelation" that my job had morphed into a combination of classical church ministry and project/event management.

So, I educated myself by enrolling in a project-management course and then began looking for ways to stay on top of the myriad of details, using homemade project-management systems.

Today, the truly savvy church or para-church organization can invest around 500 bucks and get a full-featured project-management software such as Microsoft Project or Primavera SureTrak and manage and track every detail imaginable for an event.

Unfortunately, the learning curve can be high if you are new to professional project-management language and strategies. And that's where Event Helpmate 2004 comes in, a simple, easy-to-use software solution that will eliminate some of the biggest headaches associated with event management--people, resource and space conflicts.

Event Helpmate prevents conflicts by tracking the event name, category, time and room assignment and configuration. You can even view tasks, resources, registrations and bookings associated with an event.

Also included are resource-management tools, which provide detailed tracking/cataloging information about the resource itself, including acquisition and value information. This alone is helpful in the sense that it provides a way to track organizational assets, a great feature if you ever have to call upon your friendly neighborhood insurance carrier for replacement.

Another handy feature is the room chart, which gives users a visual snapshot of room usage over an extended period of time. You can even store informative details about the rooms themselves such as seating capacity, square footage and default resources (resources that are automatically reserved when a room is selected for an event).

Possibly one of the best features in Event Helpmate is the ability to print customized reports from within each window. For example, if you wanted to know all the dates and events for which Amy was already scheduled, you can print a calendar or report that only shows Amy's schedule.

A large or midsize church may have administrators on staff to manage such details, but Event Helpmate could help in keeping everyone on the same page, avoiding scheduling conflicts, double-booked rooms, and so on.

Though the software will not make up for sloppy organization, it is a great tool for simple event management and scheduling.
Eric Wilbanks

WORSHIP

Arriving
by Chris Tomlin
(Sixsteps/ Sparrow Records)

It's as if Chris Tomlin writes and chooses his songs with specific congregations in mind. "How Great Is Our God" is sure to become a corporate worship favorite. As with much of his previous work, the style of this album is unassuming and with choruses that you can imagine people of all ages singing. "Holy Is the Lord" is already a favorite in many churches and (along with "Famous One," "We Bow Down" and "Enough") is now on a long list of modern worship favorites. Himself a pastor and worship leader, Tomlin has created another album with the local church in mind, full of songs that are easy to learn and relevant for today.
Vinnie Zarletti

For All You've Done
(Hillsong Music, Integrity Music)

Since their first album debuted in 1988, the music team from Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, has become a songwriting force. Recorded at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, For All You've Done is the group's 13th live-worship collection, with more than 11,000 worshipers and a 500-voice choir joining the Hillsong team for a hard-to-stay-in-your-seat celebration. Hillsong's signature sound, evident on the first and title song, "For All You've Done," is interwoven throughout the album, and combines smooth, inspired and sometimes driving melodies with uncompromising, powerful, yet intimate lyrics. This double-CD album also showcases a variety of musical genres. Some songs such as "One Way" and "Forever and a Day" are more electric guitar- and rock-driven, while "Jesus the Same" and "I Will Love" feature the easy-listening coffeehouse sound of the acoustic guitar.
Angela Morriello

When Silence Falls
by Tim Hughes (Worshiptogether)

As CCLI's No. 1 song from October 2003 through March 2004, "Here I Am to Worship" put Tim Hughes on the map. Now, this 20-something from the U.K. has followed up with an album for churches looking for the latest in cutting-edge worship music. The first song on When Silence Falls, "Beautiful One," is an anthem of praise that will surely liven up any service. The following track, "You," cries out, "Take the world but give me You!" And it leads right into the passionate song "Consuming Fire," which is certain to be heard in churches across the globe as it sings, "Spirit of God fall in this place / Lord have Your way." Tim Hughes is a voice that will be heard for a long time as he gives us songs that will change our lives.
Vinnie Zarletti

Revival in Belfast II
by Robin Mark
(Integrity Music)

Though it's not as memorable as its prequel, fans of Robin Mark's Revival in Belfast will enjoy the mellow, contemporary style of this follow-up album. No matter what generation worship leaders are a part of, they will enjoy bringing "Perfume" and "Some Kind of Love" to their congregations, with or without Celtic instrumentation. Those who relish Irish music will appreciate the folk-sounding ear candy of "Killavil," reminiscent of the Braveheart soundtrack, and which might prove useful as background music for altar calls.
Tina Bembry

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