I am an African American who has been in the PCA for fifteen years. Over these years, I have been encouraged by the number of PCA leaders passionate about seeing the PCA better reflect the ethnic diversity of our communities. As the new Coordinator of Mission to North America African American Ministries (AAM), I have been particularly encouraged by the number of PCA leaders who truly desire to see the PCA reach more African Americans, particularly for leadership roles in the PCA. While the founding of the PCA included very few African Americans, over the last fifty years, we have seen an increase in African Americans from the pulpit to the pew. We ought to praise God for this! Yet still, out of over 5,200 pastors currently in the PCA, only 67 are African American. This ratio is seen not only in our pulpits but is also reflected in most church pews across the PCA. We at AAM are committed to seeing this change. We are leading the PCA in helping more African Americans find and make a healthy home here in the PCA. We currently pursue this goal through a variety of programs, including:
- The Center for African American Church Planting (CAACP). This Center is focused on helping the next generation of African American church planters be better equipped to reach the next generation of African Americans.
- Virtual group cohorts. These cohorts serve as a place of support for current and future African American leaders in the PCA, providing them a sense of community and camaraderie, as well as a space to process the challenges they experience as ethnic minority leaders in the PCA.
- Leadership Development Resource Conference (LDR). This annual national conference brings together African Americans from across the PCA for a time of worship, training, and fellowship. LDR encourages African Americans in the PCA to know that they are not alone in navigating the challenges of being an ethnic minority in the PCA. We are also in the process of establishing an annual LDR conference specifically for African American Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) students, which will provide a place of culturally contextualized gospel encouragement for these students.
- Between the Pew podcast. This podcast highlights the stories and journeys of African American leaders in the PCA. This, again, helps African Americans to know that they are not alone in their own journeys in PCA, and to find encouragement from the testimonies of others.
- Partnerships. We work with presbyteries and churches to help connect them with qualified African American candidates for open ministry positions, and with reformed seminaries to help care for their African American students.
While these programs have proven fruitful, especially for the retention of current African Americans in the PCA, there remains a great need for a concerted effort denominationally to reach more African Americans and to train more African Americans for leadership positions. We believe that growth in two strategic missional areas will greatly catalyze a movement of African Americans into the PCA:
- Establishing more RUFs on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) campuses
- Planting more churches with a specific missional focus on reaching African Americans
There is a great opportunity for drawing more African Americans into the PCA and into various levels of leadership in the PCA through the establishment of more RUFs on HBCUs. Since the early 19th Century, HBCUs have faithfully educated African American students who were for centuries excluded from admission to many predominantly white institutions. Today, there are over a hundred HBCUs across the country still serving a majority African American population. However, the PCA has only established RUF campus ministries on a handful of these campuses. Again, there is a great opportunity here. Establishing more RUFs on HBCUs will not only minister to African American college students at a critical juncture of life, but also help introduce them to the theology of the PCA, which will greatly increase the likelihood of these students seeking a PCA church home during and post-college. Also, just as many majority culture PCA leaders entered the PCA through RUF’s ministry, so too would establishing RUFs on more HBCUs help develop a pipeline for future African American leaders in the PCA.
We also must make greater efforts to plant more churches with a specific focus on reaching African American populations. There are currently approximately 2,000 PCA congregations. However, only thirty of these congregations are led by African American senior pastors, and only a fraction of these have a centrally-focused mission to reach African Americans. While the past few decades have seen an uptick in church plants specifically with an intercultural vision, many of these churches struggle to reach and maintain a significant percentage of African American congregants. There is, therefore, a need for a movement of thriving African-American-led and African American culturally-centered PCA churches that plant kindred churches. These would be churches committed to contextualizing every aspect of their ministry towards maximum fruitfulness in the evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development of African Americans. These churches would also be more culturally accessible church homes for HBCU students.
One of the main barriers to these efforts is the challenge of support and fundraising that many African American leaders and potential leaders of these ministries experience. Therefore, we need more presbyteries, churches, and individuals to commit to financially supporting these leaders and their ministries. This includes increased funding specifically for us at AAM, the ministry of the PCA called to lead the denomination in these initiatives.
As the PCA celebrates its 50th anniversary, this is a strategic time for us as a denomination to focus on reaching more African Americans. Our hope is that in doing so, we will have a denomination fifty years from now that bears better witness to that eschatological vision of a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing in the unified worship of our God.
Rev. Charles A. McKnight III, has a Master of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and degrees in English and African-American History from the University of North Carolina (Greensboro). He is co-pastor of West Charlotte Church (PCA) – an intercultural church plant committed to the urban west Charlotte community. He also currently serves as a founding member of the Central Carolina Presbytery Intercultural Church Planting Committee, as a board member of the PCA Mission to North America (MNA) Unity Fund, as the Coordinator for the MNA African-American Ministries, and as a co-host of “Between the Pew,” a new podcast sharing the stories of, and discussing topics particularly relevant to African-Americans in the PCA. Prior to planting West Charlotte Church, he served as a pastoral intern then as a pastor at Christ Central Church. He is a former public school teacher and has taught Cultural Apologetics at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Charles is also on the advisory board for Covenant Seminary. Charles and his wife Charlotte served for five years as domestic missionaries with Apartment Life CARES Ministry. Charles and Charlotte are in their fourteenth year of marriage and have four children – McKenzie Grace (13); Corinne Justice (9); Kendall Joy (8); Charles “CAM,” IV (4).