Storefront Churches


The Film


George W. Bush and Laura Bush stand on a White House balcony. 

A World Missions for Christ member preaches on a street corner in front of a large cross on a window, holding a bullhorn and a Bible. 

A crowd of people gather on a corner in Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood.

Easter in Washington, D.C.: The White House holds its annual Easter Egg Roll on its great lawn. But less than a mile away is the city’s Shaw neighborhood—one of the country’s most impoverished communities—where residents celebrate a more spiritual commemoration of the holiday. In the months leading up to Easter, LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN follows the lives of four Shaw residents who rely on their neighborhood’s storefront church, the World Missions for Christ Church, to sustain them through the challenges of living in the inner city. Within the tightly proscribed boundaries of this church and its small congregation, they call upon faith and community to overcome the unemployment, homelessness and violence that affects their lives, as well as the lives of many other American families living in poverty.

Presented by executive producer and scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN is a riveting and emotional documentary that tracks the daily lives and journeys of four World Missions for Christ parishioners as they work towards fulfilling their hopes for a better life, using their church as a source of strength and spiritual power. A former corner store, the church is a sanctuary where members gather every Sunday to sing, pray, testify and work to change their community. Originally founded in the 1970s by Rev. Dr. JoAnn Perkins with the support of her mother and eleven siblings, the church has not only saved the lives of those in Perkins’ neighborhood, but also those in her family. While living on welfare, Perkins earned a Ph.D. in special education through scholarships at Georgetown University. Meanwhile, her brother Bobby had slipped into a dangerous drug addiction. In the film, Bobby testifies how he was saved from a path of certain destruction by joining the church, which prompted his sister to give up her title and make him pastor.

A young boy and an older man, both wearing suit jackets, sing into microphones at the World Missions church.

Shaw residents line up on the street, holding plastic bags.

LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN also follows the stories of three other parishioners: Darlene Duncan, a mother of eight who wants to get off public assistance by training to become a nurse's assistant, despite having only a sixth-grade education; David Surles, who lost his job, children and home to substance abuse and now lives and works in a homeless shelter, hoping to reunite his family by saving enough money to buy a house; and singer and evangelist Ceodtis Fulmore, or Brother C, who wants to reach out to young people by producing religious music. The church provides support for its members’ struggles and uses its modest resources to meet the essential needs of the community, hosting clothing and food giveaways, after-school tutoring, a book club, computer training, services for battered women, educational training and more.

World Missions for Christ Church is representative of an urban phenomenon: the storefront church, a long-time fundamental part of African American and Latino city life. Growing out of a need to reach the most disadvantaged citizens at the street level, these small churches sprang up as life rafts of faith in almost every American city during the Great Depression. Though rarely recognized by the media, these churches have become indispensable fixtures in the American landscape, transforming city blocks into religious and social service centers. By looking at the daily lives of the members of the World Missions for Christ Church, LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN reveals how faith and community become essential for those who want to create lasting change within cities across the U.S., including the nation’s capital.


Filmmaker David Petersen began shooting LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN in January 2001, following the church members seen in the film for over a year. In February 2005, he reported:

Darlene Duncan earned her nursing assistant degree and now uses her skills to provide medical help for those in need in her D.C. neighborhood. She also runs her own services out of her home for people who can’t attend church.

Brother C continues to work on his music ministry after successfully releasing the CD he recorded with his family in the film. He’s sold many at screenings of the film across the country and is planning to record his second CD soon as part of his music ministry.

Pastor Bobby Perkins, Sr. and First Lady Gail S. Perkins continue to pursue a 24-hour ministry, traveling into neighborhoods and communities in need, offering their counsel and support. Pastor Bobby Perkins’ sister Dr. JoAnn Perkins continues to run the World Missions for Christ Extension Center, which offers educational opportunities to members of the community.

David Surles finally got his house with a tree, but not the one he expected. He was hired as the chaplain of the shelter featured in the documentary and now manages a group home where he lives. As he explained to audiences at the screening of the film, “The house has a tree, in fact several, but you have to be careful of what you pray for. These trees have a lot of leaves that drop and always need raking.”

Meet the people featured in LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN >>

Learn more about the neighborhood seen in the film >>

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