Although the spirit of evangelism helped to give birth to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1796, the institution called the Bureau of Evangelism did not come into existence until the General Conference of 1920. For more than eighty-five years, the Bureau has sought to organize the evangelistic thrust of Zion Methodism. Its history is replete with anointed leaders who have been on the cutting edge of kingdom building for their generation.
The Reverend Benjamin Garland Shaw, Sr. was the first Director of the Bureau of Evangelism,serving from 1921 to 1924. In The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of the Black Church Bishop W. J. Walls wrote concerning Rev. Shaw: “he traveled across the country, crowding churches and having grand success in conversions and accessions of members!” Walls added, “he had been successful in gaining over 35,000 additional souls for the A. M. E. Zion Church, helping others to find the way to Christ and connecting with some Christian movement. In 1924, Rev. Shaw was elevated to the office of bishop and personally supervised the Bureau of Evangelism until 1928.
The Reverend Walter William Slade became the second Director of the Bureau of Evangelism, serving from 1928 to 1936. During his years as a pastor and presiding elder, he cultivated a concern for people. During his tenure of office, he ushered in an awareness of the “nurturing grace of Christ.” His preaching and magnetizing methodology drew people to Christ and into Zion. Bishop William J. Walls wrote that Rev. Slade was “keenly interested in the spiritual welfare of the connection. Rev. Slade was elevated to the office of bishop in 1944.
Dr. William S. Dacons became the Director of the Bureau of Evangelism in 1936. Serving until 1960, his tenure of 24 years is the longest in the history of the department. Dr. Dacons built upon the evangelistic momentum and concern for spiritual welfare established by his predecessors. He sought to stabilize the department and make it an equal concern and ministry in Zion Methodism. Under his administration the department was moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1956, the Director of the Bureau of Evangelism was accepted as a full-time General Office.
The Reverend Elias S. Hardge, Sr. became the Director of the Bureau of Evangelism in 1960, serving for eight years until 1968. Under his strong and capable leadership the A. M. E. Zion Church continued to experience growth, and the Department of Evangelism grew as well. During his administration, the Office of Evangelism was moved to Washington, D.C.
Dr. J. Dallas Jenkins became the Bureau’s fifth Director of Evangelism in 1968, serving for more than twenty years until 1988. An eloquent orator and master preacher, Dr. Jenkins set the stage of the twenty-first century. In an era of education and learning, he traveled through the connection and the world to promulgate the gospel of Jesus Christ through revival, workshops, evangelistic convocations, and training seminars. Dr. Jenkins represented the department and the denomination at ecumenical meetings with competence and style.
Dr. Norman H. Hicklin became the sixth Director of the Bureau of Evangelism in 1988, serving for eight years until 1996. A fiery preacher and an able teacher, Dr. Hicklin embraced the challenge of reclaiming the foundational concepts of “preaching – teaching – and reaching” the lost masses for God and Zion. He traveled across the United States and overseas, learning and teaching the theology, theory, terminology, and thrust of evangelism.
Dr. Darryl B. Starnes, Sr. became the seventh Director of the Bureau of Evangelism, serving from 1996 to 2008. Building on the awesome legacy of his predecessors, Dr. Starnes has traveled across the country and overseas leading thousands to Christ, training thousands in church growth and Christian discipleship, and equipping God’s people in the ministry of evangelism. He is active in World Methodist Evangelism and in 2006 planted a church outside Charlotte, NC. Dr. Starnes was elevated to the office of bishop in 2008.