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The African Church and Its Global Significance, Voices from the Global Church, part 2

Africa
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Note from Ed Stetzer: We are in a series called, “Voices from the Global Church,” leading up to the Fourth Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. I serve as the regional director for North America, and serve with a team of other regional directors. I’ve asked them to share what God is doing in their regions as we plan toward the next congress. You can also find more at the Lausanne site, including the State of Great Commission report here. Part 1 of the series, The Church and Mission in Europe Today: Changing the Narrative, is here. Part 3 will be from Asia.

Africa is the cradle of humanity. Not only is Africa the second largest continent, but it is also the second most populous continent globally. With almost 1.5 billion people living in Africa, it represents 17.89% of the global population. The potential of Africa has never been in doubt. Being the home to the earliest civilization and having bountiful resources, Africa stands privileged and blessed.

Christianity in Africa dates back two millennia. The early Christian movement spread from Jerusalem to every direction, taking on local cultural expressions throughout the ancient world, starting barely 10 days after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 2:10). In fact, Egypt was home to many of the earliest biblical manuscripts and had an organized ecclesiastical hierarchy no later than the late second century. Equally, Ethiopia was a predominantly Christian nation in the fourth century.1 By God’s design, Africa has participated in shaping Christianity through the ages in significant ways. 

A significant shift has occurred globally concerning the growth of Christianity. For the first time in history, Africa has recorded more Christians than any other continent in the world, with over 667 million Christians. Equally, evangelicalism is experiencing spectacular growth on the African continent. This is baffling given that in the early 1900s, Africa was considered a dark continent and a burial ground for missionaries. 

The Church in Africa has significantly offered authentic expressions of itself that have impacted the global church. Through the use of creative arts, such as song and dance, the gospel African songs resound across the world. In addition, the African Church has grown in actively sending local and global missionaries to work among unevangelized people groups. The number of missionaries being sent from countries in the Global South is rising, with 203,000 (47 percent of the total) in 2021, up from 31,000 (12 percent of the total) in 1970.2

The rise of African congregations globally is a key contribution to the global church. By 2025, there will be 55,000 denominations globally, signifying an 11,000 growth within a decade, coming out of Africa and the rest of the majority world.3 Realizing the internal trend concerning Christianity in Africa, we can anticipate the specific spiritual impact that Africa will have on the world.

The African Church’s Context and Challenges 

The Church has a moral force in society that is unequal to any other institution. A renowned African author once said that since Christianity is not a religion but a way of life, the Church cannot limit its involvement to preaching, praying, and singing hymns if it is to fulfill its mission on this side of the Great Divide.4 While we are all children of God and must treat each other as such, the Christian delineation of children of God by common grace and children of grace by saving grace provides a strong dynamic for Christian engagement.5 Therefore, the church has to be involved socially and politically and has a duty to be involved in managing human affairs as part of Christ’s proclaimed mission. 

The landscape of Africa is rapidly changing as it continues to have the fastest urban growth in the world. The last three decades have seen a doubling of the number of African cities from 3300 to 7600 and an increased cumulative population growth of 500 million people. Additionally, the projected population growth in African cities by 2050 is a further 900 million, welcoming two-thirds of Africa’s population. This urban growth has the side effect of slums. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 62% of its urban population resides in slums compared with 35% in Southern Asia and 24% in Latin America.6 Given its vast presence, the Sub-Saharan church must be part of the solution to this challenge. Addressing this prepares it to be more significant and authentic in its entry into the global stage. 

Further analysis of Africa’s current population reveals that almost half are under 25, and approximately 75 percent are under 35. Thus, by 2050, Africa will account for 29% of all people aged 15 to 24. This is about 348 million of the total 1.2 billion persons globally. Africa is expected to be the hope of the future for Global Mission. Additionally, by 2050, it’s projected that half of the evangelicals globally will be from Africa, and nearly four in ten of the world’s Christians (38%) are expected to be living in sub-Saharan Africa. 

1 Perbi, Y. & Ngugi, S. (2022). “Africa to the rest.” Xulon Press
2 Zurlo, G. A., Johnson, T. M., & Crossing, P. F. (2021). “World Christianity and Mission 2021: Questions about the Future. International Bulletin of Mission Research,” 45(1), 15-25.
3 Perbi, Y. & Ngugi, S. (2022). “Africa to the rest.” Xulon Press.
4 Gana, A. “The African Political Crisis and the Church in Africa.” (1997). Vision for a bright Africa, edited by George Kinoti & Peter Kimuyu. IFES.
5 Obasanjo, Olusegun. “Africa Arise.” 25 Jul. 2006. Religion & Government in Africa: A Christian Response, edited by Delanyo Adadevoh, ILF Publishers, 2009.
6 Amegah AK. “Slum decay in Sub-Saharan Africa: Context, environmental pollution challenges, and impact on dweller’s health.” Environ Epidemiol. 2021 May 20;5(3):e158. doi: 10.1097/EE9.0000000000000158. PMID: 34131619; PMCID: PMC8196122.