The Black Church and Liberal Arts Institutions

Forming Reciprocal Relationships for Thriving Urban Communities and Churches


  • Marcia Allen Owens, J.D., Ph.D., M.Div Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
  • John McKnight Connecticut College
  • Maurice Tiner Yale Divinity School alum
  • Michelle R. Dunlap Connecticut College



Black Church, community engagement, faith-based organizations, churches, sustainability, stewardship


Academic institutions engaged in partnerships with the Black Church, including small, independent, under-resourced churches as well as historically Black denominational churches, and other under-resourced faith-based organizations, are encouraged to consider collaborative educational opportunities around the issues of strategic financial sustainability and short and long-term stewardship. Four highly community-engaged academics offer a thought-experiment starting with their observations and experiences with respect to the need for such partnerships, and how these kinds of collaborations may be able to help strengthen the Black Church, in all its forms and faith-based communities and ground them for greater advocacy for demanding systemic and structural change.

Author Biographies

John McKnight, Connecticut College

John F. McKnight Jr. joined Connecticut College in 2016 as dean of institutional equity and inclusion. He is responsible for the overall vision and leadership of the work of equity and inclusion, and collaborates with leaders across campus to fulfill its commitment to full participation. He oversees the offices of the equity and compliance programs, gender and sexuality programs, race and ethnicity programs, and religious and spiritual programs.

Throughout his career, McKnight has held a variety of administrative positions, first at Lehigh University and later, at Lafayette College, where he designed and implemented successful initiatives to foster inclusive campus communities. Of particular note are the programs in intercultural competency and in social justice peer education that he established at Lafayette, both of which have had a singular impact on the campus culture.

As dean of intercultural development and deputy Title IX coordinator at Lafayette College, McKnight was responsible for managing five areas within the campus life division, including student leadership and involvement, religious and spiritual life, gender and sexuality programs, international student advising, and intercultural development. He designed and implemented an annual social justice ally development retreat for students and, as coordinator of the bias-response team, co-led the “Civility Project,” a proactive approach to bias education. A natural collaborator, John worked closely with faculty, staff, and students across the divisions to advance programming, advocacy for underrepresented populations, and community building. He also transformed Lafayette’s multicultural recruitment efforts in partnership with the enrollment management division. He was twice named the Aaron O. Hoff Administrator of the Year, and also received an Excellence in Mentorship Award at Lafayette, in recognition of these efforts.

McKnight holds a doctorate of education in administration and leadership studies from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a master of science in higher education administration from Indiana University and a bachelor of science degree from the University of Florida. 

Maurice Tiner, Yale Divinity School alum

Maurice Tiner is a minister at Encouraging Word Church in Hamden, CT.  He also is an educator who has a wide array of experience from primary school to higher education. He has developed curriculum for middle school students while also advising a college's senior administration as a Board of Trustee Member. Helping people and companies to solve problems and maximize their potential are his passions. He does this work through modes of teaching, collaborating with groups, and leading workshops.


Alexander, R., & Moore, S. (2008). The Benefits, Challenges, and Strategies of African American Faculty Teaching at Predominantly White Institutions. Journal of African American Studies, 12(1), 4-18. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

Barrett, B. (2010). Faith in the Inner City: The Urban Black Church and Students' Educational Outcomes. The Journal of Negro Education, 79(3), 249-262. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

CBN News (2015, Dec. 13). “4 Reasons Why Some Churches Flourish and Others Close.” Christian Broadcasting Network News.

Church Relevance Team (2013, Mar. 28). “50 Examples of Church Mission Statements”.

Delucchi, Michael (1997): “Liberal Arts Colleges and the Myth of Uniqueness” The Journal of Higher Education, 68, (4), 414-426.

Drewry, H., Doermann, H., & Anderson, S. (2001). Major Historical Factors Influencing Black Higher Education. In Stand and Prosper: Private Black Colleges and Their Students (pp. 13-31). PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt7swwg.9

Drewry, H., Doermann, H., & Anderson, S. (2001). Stand and Prosper. In Stand and Prosper: Private Black Colleges and Their Students (pp. 280-288). PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt7swwg.24

Francis, Leah Gunning (2015). “Beyond Band-aids and Bootstraps: Transformative Mentoring as Redemptive Community.” In D. Jannsen & M. Moore, Educating for Redemptive Community: Essays in Honor of Jack Seymour and Margaret Ann Crain. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, p. 44-64.

Frazier, E.F. (1963). The Negro church in America. New York: Shocken Books.

Gaines, R. (2010). Looking Back, Moving Forward: How the Civil Rights Era Church Can Guide the Modern Black Church in Improving Black Student Achievement. The Journal of Negro Education, 79(3), 366-379. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

Gauthier, Frances (2020). Religion, Modernity, Globalization: Nation-State to Market. Routledge.

Irwin, Gail (2013). Toward the Better Country: Church Closure and Resurrection. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Lang, Eugene (1999). "Distinctively American: the liberal arts college." Daedalus, 128, (1), 133-150.

Lewis, John & Webb, Sheyann (2010). “Youth in the Civil Rights Movement.” In Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, Hidden in Plain Sight: The Tragedy of Children's Rights from Ben Franklin to Lionel Tate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Maier, Jared (2010). Congregational Growth, Decline, Diversity, and Identity: Dissertation. Baylor University.

Morton, Chris (2019, Feb. 4). Churches are Closing. These Four Models are Thriving. Missio Alliance.

Padfield, David (2019). “Why Churches Die,” The Church of Christ in Zion, Illinois.

Lott, J. (2008). Racial Identity and Black Students' Perceptions of Community Outreach: Implications for Bonding Social Capital. The Journal of Negro Education, 77(1), 3-14. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

Martinez, Ana & Salkever, Katya (2003): “Mission, Multiculturalism, and the Liberal Arts College: A Qualitative Investigation.” The Journal of Higher Education, Volume 74 (5), 563-596.

Mitchell, R. (2010). Commentary: The African American Church, Education and Self Determination. The Journal of Negro Education, 79(3), 202-204. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

Moore, K.S. "Class Formations: Competing Forms of Black Middle-class Identity." Ethnicities 8, no. 4 (2008): 492-517. Accessed August 28, 2020.

Owens, M.A. (2006). Consuming responsibly. In Brubaker, P.K, Peters, R.T., and Stivers, L.A.(Eds.), Justice in a global economy: Strategies for home, community, and world (pp. 40-49). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Publishers.

Owens, M.A. (2008). Practicing what we preach and preaching what we should practice” The Anvil: Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church – An Incredible Influence: Annual Resource Guide (2008-2009).

Owens, M.A. (2011). I Am, Because We Are; and Since We Are, Therefore I Am, In God’s Earth is Sacred: Essays on Eco Justice & World, A. Riggs, ed., National Council of Churches EcoJustice Program.

Rael, P. (2006). Free Black Activism in the Antebellum North. The History Teacher, 39(2), 215-253. DOI:10.2307/30036772

Richardson, James (1993). Definitions of Cult: From Sociological-Technical to Popular-Negative. Review of Religious Research, 34 (4), 348-356.

Siddle Walker, V. (1996).Their highest potential: An African American school community in the segregated south. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press

Toldson, I., & Anderson, K. (2010). Editor's comment: The role of religion in promoting academic success for Black students. The Journal of Negro Education, 79(3), 205-213. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

Thompson, D. (2012). Widening participation from a historical perspective: Increasing our understanding of higher education and social justice. In Basit T. & Tomlinson S. (Eds.), Social inclusion and higher education (pp. 41-64). Bristol: Bristol University Press. DOI:10.2307/j.ctt1t891n1.7

Warnock, R. (2014). Womanist Theologians on the Mission of the Black Church. In The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness (pp. 153-172). New York; London: NYU Press. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from