How to Do Outreach to the African-American Faith Community

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Faith is a significant component of African-American life and culture. As such, the African-American community is well represented across many faith denominations. In order to successfully engage and inform this community, strong relationships with faith leaders need to be established, along with an understanding of faith-specific norms.

According to the Pew Center’s National Survey1 the largest concentrations of faith- based congregations in the African – American community are represented in the Christian, Jehovah’s Witness, and Islamic denominations.

Important Factors to Consider:

  • Diversity of faith-based congregations
  • Understand the differences in titles towards church leadership (Index A)

Engaging the African-American Faith Community

The African-American community is well represented across many faith denominations. In order to successfully engage and inform this community there needs to be a clear understanding of faith-specific norms.

Language 

  • When working with a specific ethnic group, be certain to determine the primary language of communication be it English, a variation of Afro-Caribbean languages (creole, African-dialects, etc.), or bilingual.
  • Understand the differences in titles towards congregation leadership (Index A.)
  • Understand different names for gatherings, services, and building reference for worship.

First Contact 

  • Do your research. Larger, mega congregations will have a website that lists an initial contact and office hours. You usually can call the congregation secretary to set up an appointment with the congregation lead. If no response or with a smaller congregations, call to find out when services are held, attend and speak to the lead afterward.
  •  Map your community. Identify where local congregations are located.
  • Learn the history of the faith and the entity representing that faith, activism level of the congregation leaders (many are community leaders), and approach the most active faith-based group first.
  • Arrive before the gathering and ask ushers or dedicated staff to introduce you to community partners.

Attire/Conduct

  • Professional, conservative dress clothes (no jeans) are recommended. By doing a little research beforehand about the group, you can avoid breaking any cultural taboos. For example, some entities may expect heads to be covered or for women to be more moderately dressed by covering their shoulders and knees. Better to over-dress than under-dress.

  • Arrive about 30 minutes before the service to speak to staff/volunteers.

  • Silence your phone.

  • Observe the way people interact with one another and the language they use (often calling each other sister or brother) and follow suit (based on your own comfort level.)

  • After the service, the lead will usually greet members. Wait patiently to briefly introduce yourself and ask for a follow-up time to meet and discuss.

  • In some congregations, there will be an offering (money) collected. If possible, please place one dollar in the collection plate as a sign of respect.

  • If you are not a member of the congregation or religious affiliation, do not participate in communion (Specifically applies to Catholic and Christian faiths.)

Some Do’s and Don’ts

Do: 

  • Shake people’s hands… some might even hug you!
  • Smile and be polite.
  • Provide information, hand out material, and stay awake.
  • Engage as many people as possible.
  • Maintain contact after the event – relationship building is key.
  • Learn about the faith before attending a service–even a little knowledge about it will help you understand the environment you are walking into!

Don’t: 

  • Don’t discuss politics.
  • Don’t discuss your personal religious views if they do not align with faith you are visiting.
  • Don’t show bias towards any particular group — religious or political.
  • Don’t fall asleep.
  • Don’t arrive late.
  • Don’t interrupt.

Index A

RELIGION 

POSITION 

SALUTATION 

DIRECT ADDRESS 

Christianity: Anglican; Episcopalian 

Priest (who may be functioning as a Rector; Curate; Vicar; Chaplain)

Dear Fr. 

* When the priest is a woman “Dear Mother Smith”; others prefer “Dear Elizabeth.”

Father or Mother

Deacon

Dear Deacon 

Deacon ; or, Deacon 

Bishop

Dear Bishop ; Your Grace 

Bishop; or Your Grace 

Dean (of a seminary)

Dear Dean 

Dean 

Archdeacon

Dear Archdeacon LN

Archdeacon; Fr. ; Fr.

Presiding Bishop

Dear Bishop 

BishopYour Grace 

Nun, Monk

Dear Sister ; Brother

Sister; Brother 

Christianity: Church of Christ(not United Church of Christ)

Minister

Christianity: Jehovah’s Witnesses 

While the term “minister” is used, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a clergy class and special titles

Brother Smith; Mr. Smith

Catholic 

Cardinal

Your Eminence 

Your Eminence 

Archbishop/Bishop

Your Excellency 

Your Excellency 

Priest

Dear Reverend 

Father 

Deacon

Dear Deacon 

Deacon 

Brother (monk)

Dear Brother 

Brother 

Sister (nun)

Dear Sister 

Sister 

Christianity: 

Pentecostal, Evangelical 

Minister

Dear Pastor 

Pastor 

Christianity1: Protestants,

Minister

The Reverend 

Pastor 

Christianity: Latter-day Saints/Mormon 

President (Apostle)

President Gordon B. Hinckley

President Hinckley

Bishop 

Bishop 

Bishop 

Elder (includes male missionaries)

Elder 

Elder 

Female missionaries

Sister 

Sister 

 

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