African Church Offers Model for Evangelism, Growth
Jan. 26, 2005
A UMC.org Feature
By Lesley Crosson
Just four months after the Rev. Anastacio Chembeze was appointed pastor of a church in northern Mozambique, his chief concern is the shortage of trained church workers for his growing congregation.
The new minister of Central United Methodist Church in Deira also worries about the size of the building the 1,000-member congregation is constructing with no outside funding.
"We are always getting new people, so I am also hoping that the congregation will not have outgrown the church by the time we finish the building," he says.
Nowhere have churches been more successful than in Africa, where the number of Christians has grown from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million today. Mozambique’s United Methodists, who ended their annual conference session Dec. 12, reported an 8,000-person membership increase for 2004.
United Methodist churches throughout the continent have similar growth.
Bishop João Somane Machado, leader of the United Methodist Church in Mozambique, says the idea that evangelization is not a one-time campaign is behind the growth.
"It is the reason for the existence of the church. It is our purpose and our top priority," Machado says.
Such growth is within the reach of any church willing to use all the tools and resources at its disposal, suggests the Rev. Irene Kabete, a candidate for a master of divinity candidate at Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Those tools include understanding that evangelization is the mission of the church and that efforts to attract people require planning, prayer and, most important, full participation by the congregation.
At Inner City United Methodist Church in Harare, where Kabete serves as pastor, a committee sets goals and guides church growth efforts, but all members do the actual work. Kabete is on study leave from her duties as Inner City’s pastor and district council director for the Zimbabwe West Annual (regional) Conference.
"The committee asks how many new people do we want to get, where will we find them, and how will we get them? We figure out how many people all our different church groups will be responsible for bringing into the church, and then we pray for success," she says. Each person — man, woman or youth — "aims to bring at least one new member during the year," she says.
The outreach includes distributing fliers in growing neighborhoods, making door-to-door visits and holding revivals in targeted neighborhoods. Kabete says small Bible study sessions hosted by church members in their homes are also an effective way for members to draw their friends into the church.
From 1999 to 2004, the five years that Kabete served Inner City, the congregation grew 800 members to 1,700 and spawned four new churches. One of them, which had 250 members when Kabete left Zimbabwe in September, has itself started another church.
One of the church’s most effective evangelists is 70-year-old Rudo Jane Bingepinge, evangelization chair for women in the Zimbabwe East District and a member of St. James United Methodist Dangavura Church in Mutare.
Everyone has something they can use to bring people to God, Bingepinge says.
"God gave each of us a gift. My gift is listening to people and talking to them and understanding their problems. So many people come to me, and I talk to them about God and about the church, and they feel better. These people then feel that they are part of us and that we care, and so they come back."
Keith Rae, a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries executive for evangelization and church growth, recently returned from Maputo, Mozambique, where the board sponsored a weeklong evangelization academy and a conference on gospel and culture.
Young people there have taken an active role in evangelization. "Youth choirs from seven different churches performed, and these young people take their ministry very seriously. One of the most important tools they use is their music. They write and sing songs that appeal to and draw young people in," Rae says.
Rae adds that the young people invite their friends into the church "not as part of a campaign but as an everyday thing."
Kabete also seizes every opportunity to reach the unchurched.
"If I am preaching at a funeral or a wedding, I also include a message about the caring presence of the church and let all the people there know that they are welcome in the church."
In an unusual venture, Kabete says Inner City even organized a golf outing after members learned that some people in Harare are golf enthusiasts. About 14 people responded to the church’s invitation, and some now attend services.
Potential members can be as close as the people next door or the people at one’s job. Kabete suggests inviting them to a church service or activity that might interest them.
Machado cautions against expecting church leaders to bear full responsibility for church growth.
"Every Christian is an evangelist," the bishop says, "and the constant goal of every one of us must be to fulfill the purpose of the church by bringing as many souls to God as we can."
*Crosson is a writer living in New York City.
News media contact: Matt Carlisle, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5153 or firstname.lastname@example.org.