|Africa's Future Church: Part I|
In 1910, the year of the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, Africa’s Christian future not only looked bleak; it was virtually unrepresented. A century later, Africa hosted the 2010 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, a symbolic gesture pointing to an astounding fact: Today Sub-Saharan Africa is a heartland of global Christianity. AIM asked three PhD candidates at Africa International University in Kenya to share their perspective on the future of the African Church.
By Michael Dikki
The phenomenal growth of the African church is a known fact, and the trend is not about to change soon. Take Nigeria for example. Here, in 1931, professing Christians represented six percent of the population, Muslims 44 percent, and traditional religions 50 percent. By 1963, 35 percent of the population identified as Christian, while Islam and traditional religions claimed 47 and 18 percent of the population respectively. For the first time in 2011, the Pew Research Centre reported that more than half of Nigeria (51 percent) identifies with the Christian faith. This story is similar in several countries across Africa.
The narrative is not all positive, however. Islam is expanding through aggression and proselytization. In Nigeria, Christian persecution is ever on the increase, especially in the north. In 1987 I narrowly escaped a lynching in the city of Zaria where almost all churches were burned to the ground. I suffered a similar experience in 1991 in Kano, northern Nigeria, when Muslims protested against German evangelist Reinhardt Bonnke. Many churches were torched and hundreds of Christians were killed. Three other riots occurred between 1997and 2004 and in two of these cases, I was attacked. Aside from aggression, followers of Islam employ various strategies to convert young people, including social relations and economic influence. Three of my Christian cousins were persuaded to marry richer Muslim men.
But wealth isn’t the only incentive. Last year I conducted research among Christian converts to Islam and discovered that—across denominations— young people are turning to Islam for reasons other than material gain. They list Muslim friendships, moral failure in the Church, and appealing practices within Islam—its simplicity, clarity and unity—as reasons for conversion. Some have studied the two religions and have found Christianity wanting. Others say they adopted Islam in their search for the one true God, or after experiencing deliverance from evil spirits. Islam is adapting its outreach strategy to compete with Christian evangelism
Clearly, Islam is adapting its outreach strategy to compete with Christian evangelism. Muslims explain their conversion in terms that are strikingly familiar to us as believers. The implication is that we as Africans must change the way we do discipleship, with an emphasis on strong biblical theology. The story of the Bible must be taught and Christ-like discipleship must be modeled. Otherwise Islam will continue to exploit weaknesses in the African church.
Michael is founder of The Complete Gospel Ministry in northern Nigeria. He is pursuing Islamic studies.