HOW TO REACH AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDENTS
A few years ago, University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff campus minister Tavoris “Tee” Uzoigwe and his wife Erica were looking for a church home. “We found ourselves very depressed as we sat through a service because we saw no people of color represented in the congregation,” Tee said. “This immediately told us the following: There is no place for us here.”
How can churches reach African-American students?
“There is a different culture that one must seek to understand if we are to reach the African-American world,” said Tee, quoting I Cor. 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
“There has to be a respect and an understanding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Arkansas Baptist State Convention Church Planter Neal Scoggins said. Celebrating events unique to the African-American heritage and connecting to Greek life on campus Neal calls the natural pathways.
Churches must “give African-American students a place at the table” and “get out of the us and them mindset,” said Tee. “Most people do not want to pay the price of engaging another culture; however, the blessings are where the risks are,”
Neal said three outreach tools work for college students regardless of culture: food, fun, and a safe place. Having a safe place especially resonates with black students who need to feel like they’re being heard ”because they don’t have that.”
Group events can offer safe places for minorities, but so can individuals. Tee said church member Steven Moon befriended a new Christian and African-American student. “This is one of the greatest relationships I have ever seen between an African-American student and a Caucasian man,” said Tee. “(Steve) stepped out of his comfort zone and gave himself just as God gave Jesus.”
Neal also said one-on-one relationships work, but he cautioned against choosing just anyone. “Find someone who–for a lack of a better term–has street credit, someone who has respect in the community, who has influence on that culture. It could be the football player or the smartest kid in math class.”
Finally, the Uzoigwe family did find a church home at Watson Chapel First Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, a place which strives to reach their predominantly 70 percent African-American community. Just this year, the church has touched over 80 African-American students’ lives and have baptized over a dozen.