Black Church History

Rooted and established in love, the Black Church historically has given a voice to its people and hope to the community as a cornerstone for the African American. It is an integral part of Black culture and provides a foundation that generations have depended on to help them in the midst of trials and celebration.

In the book The Black Church in the African American Experience, authors C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiva describe seven major historic Black denominations as comprising “the Black church:” African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church; the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church; the National Baptist Convention, USA., Incorporated (NBC); the National Baptist Convention of America, Unincorporated (NBCA); the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC); and the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). While Blacks were also members of predominantly white denominations, Lincoln and Mamiva chose to confine “the Black church” to independent, historic and totally Black-controlled denominations.

Since the publication of the book, two new denominations have emerged: National Missionary Baptist Convention (NMBC) and the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship (FGBCF). The FGBCF does not refer to itself as a denomination, but a fellowship.

AMEZ, founded in 1796 – This congregation was known as the "Freedom Church" because members included Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Beginning in 1796 James Varick , Peter Williams, Christopher Rush and other African Americans of the John Street Methodist Church, a white church in New York City, begin holding separate meetings. In 1801 they chartered the African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City.

AME, founded in 1816 – The African Methodist Episcopal motto is, "God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, Man our Brother." The African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination formed when Bethel A.M.E Church joined with other black Methodist churches. Membership reached 2.2 million in 1989.

CME, founded in 1870 - Christian Methodist Episcopal came into existence as a result of the movement from slavery to freedom. Black members of the white Methodist Episcopal Church South petitioned to form a separate church in 1866. Forty-one leaders gathered in 1870 and organized the colored branch of Methodism. They elected two of their own preachers — William H. Miles and Richard H. Vanderhorst — as their bishops. By 1989 CME membership reached 975,000.

COGIC, founded in 1896 - Charles H. Mason and Charles Jones form the Church of God and it was renamed Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in 1897. In 1907 Jones splits with Mason and forms Church of Christ (Holiness) USA. The church has grown from ten congregations in 1907 to the second largest Pentecostal group in America. The membership of the Church of God in Christ grew from three million in 1973 to an estimated eight million in 1997. Churches under the parent body in Memphis, Tennessee, are now established throughout the United States, on every continent and in many of the islands of the sea.

PNB, founded in 1957 – The Progressive National Baptist’s motto is, “Fellowship, Progress, Service, Peace.” In 1957 NBC USA Inc. president Rev. J. H. Jackson expels ten pastors over the issue of tenure; plans for Progressive National Baptist Convention begin to emerge. Three years later Rev. Gardner C. Taylor loses a controversial election as president of NBC USA Inc., to Jackson. Taylor supporters include Revs. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Benjamin Mays. National office located in Washington, DC. Membership is nearly 2 million.

NBCA, founded in 1886 - The American National Baptist Convention is the second largest association of Black Baptists in the United States.

NBC, founded in 1886 - National Baptist Convention, USA., Incorporated, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. is the nation’s oldest and largest African-American religious convention.

An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage by Marvin A. McMickle, Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0851, 2002.
The Black Church in the African American Experience by C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamaya, Duke University Press, 1990.

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Kim Flynn is a member of the Pastoral Ministries staff at Focus on the Family. She is also involved in lay ministry and enjoys pursuing her gifts in writing and music. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., with her husband, Tom.