At a time when it seems African-Americans are the worst hit in every category from unemployment to health care, and social and political representation, a group of black church leaders is re-emerging to help create a unified voice for the black community.

The Conference of National Black Churches, a collaboration between nine of the largest black church denominations in the country, is convening a meeting in Washington, D.C. this week.

According to Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, CNBC chairman and pastor of Grace Baptist Church (Mt. Vernon, NY), is a new manifestation of an intentional ecumenical relationship.

“The potential impact is unending,” Richardson said. “The next phase of the Civil Rights movement is emerging. We believe it will emerge more effectively if the black church was involved.”

The purpose of this meeting, called the National Consultation, is to bring church leaders together to determine the needs of the community and identify the priorities in the areas hitting the black community the hardest, Richardson said.

The CNBC was birthed out of an initiative called the Congress of National Black Churches some 25-plus years ago, Richardson said. Ten years ago the group became inactive and in February 2010 the Conference of National Black Churches was born.

Richardson said the need for such a partnership never subsided.

Some would agree that Richardson is right. There is a need in the black community, but whether or not the black church is relevant enough to fulfill that need is the question.

In February 2010, Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. of Princeton University wrote an op-ed where he declared the black church is dead. One of his critiques was that the black church no longer stands at the center of the black community as they once did.

And Glaude is not alone in his critique.

Dr. Cynthia Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope in Decatur, GA agrees.

Hale said the reality is the black church is still needed, which makes the black church relevant. However, the black church is not relevant in its message.

“The black church is failing to move forward,” she said. “I know a lot of people would argue differently with me, but I need to see the evidence.”

She references the black church’s failure to address inclusivity. Leaders of the denominations need to broaden their scope, Hale said. One way to do that is to do something about who is being invited to sit at the leadership tables.

But some, like Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta, GA does not question the black church’s relevance. For him it is a no-brainer.
He believes the re-emergence of the CNBC is an example and critical at this time in history.

“This represents the latest moment in a historical continuum of black churches coming together to fight collectively,” he said. “If anyone was confused about the black church’s relevance, it has become very clear in the last few months leading up to the midterm elections.”

The black church, he said, is more relevant now than ever.

“But we need to find our voice. Over the next few years the minority will become the majority,” he said. “It will be up to us to ask ourselves what will be the implications when say we will have the largest dropout rates in the global world and the only nation not investing in education.”

What Hale wants to know is what will be the impact of the CNBC and this meeting? She said the black church has a lot of meetings, but cannot name the last time a meeting had an impact.

“We need to stop having meetings if it is not going to matter. Is this meeting going to matter?” she said. “Will it make a difference in the lives of poor people? I believe if I am not making a difference then I need to go sit down.”

Richardson said two things will help determine the impact of their first annual meeting. First, the ability to handle keeping nine denominations together and repress egos will determine their effectiveness. Secondly, the creation of an effective strategic platform and its executive abilities will also determine their impact.

“If we can get these two things going, then we have the greatest opportunity before us,” he said. “We want to end this week with the beginning of a map, an agreement and strategic plan with clear and tangible initiatives.”

They are also taking a look at their leadership, implementing an initiative to bring more denominations to the table, as well as women and youth representatives. He said they have every intention of bringing more diversity to the table.

When the black church has been at its best, it has been very productive for its people, Richardson said adding that at times the black church can be entirely too focused on its past.

“But it is an understanding of that past that is critical before we can move into the future,” he said. “While we have reference and appreciation of our legacy, we must embrace new technologies, new ideas and new challenges.”