Here are six more trends that I think the church needs to be paying attention to!
1.Increasing busyness – Urban Africans work for longer hours today than ever before. Saturdays are full working days for many, and some even work regularly on Sunday. Many people are constantly exhausted, living un-balanced and un-healthy lives. Any extra time that is left over is taken over by family obligations. The result is a reduction in availability of people for volunteering at church, and many even struggle to find time to attend. Another result of this may be a ‘hands free Christianity’, where people see their role as giving financially to support a professional clergy who do the work of ministry. Churches will need to redifine ministry beyond serving in church on Sundays, and to train members to be ‘in ministry’ at the workplace, where they spend so many hours already.
2. Increasing consumerism – Christian TV today exposes people to the view of church as a service that is offered to you, as opposed to a community to which you belong. Today, the phenomenon of ‘church hopping’ is the norm, with Christians moving from one church to the next, checking out what’s on offer and staying only as long as no one else has a better ‘show’ up the road. One of the things the church needs to do to counter this is to explore new ways to engage members in true community beyond Sunday involvement, and also to have a vision for life-discipleship that goes deeper than a new believer’s bible study.
3. Increasing nominalism – Salvation is increasingly seen and defined as a decision one makes, as opposed to the beginning of a life of transformation. Churches have also put emphasis on super-star preachers teaching from the pulpit and not as much on discipleship and follow up of believers. As a result, there are many Christians in this nation who have made several decisions to follow Christ and attend church service faithfully, but show little evidence of their in their workplaces, homes and in the public sphere.
4. Older Singles – Many more middle-class working young adults, especially women, are remaining single in their thirties and above. This is either out of choice or circumstance. The African culture traditionally tied maturity to marriage and the church has tended to follow that model. However, the successful church will seek to give dignity to single adults (after all, Jesus & Paul were single!) and not lump them with the ‘youth’. It will dignify single-hood and have single people in prominent positions of leadership. It will provide structures that allow single and married adults to form supportive family relationships. And it will need to come up with creative ministries that support single parents, who are increasing in numbers among us.
5. Irrelevance of our borrowed church models – our model of church is copied from the West including architecture, financing & leadership. It demands buildings, PA systems, full time professional ministers etc. As our cities get more crowded, it will increasingly be harder to support church buildings that sit empty most of the week. As our society fragments, pastoral needs will only increase, but financing more skilled full-time pastors will cost too much. Should the church be moving towards being led by part time volunteers who support themselves through complimentary vocations? Should our church buildings also be community facilities (e.g. gyms, shopping centers, conference centers etc) that are used by the whole community during the week?
6. ‘Politicization’ of societal issues – Christians are finding themselves unwittingly taking part in debating social issues that were considered ‘unmentionable’ in the past. In the abortion debate for instance, we have seen some prominent doctors and personalities support abortion (using the political language of ‘choice’) in the media. Another is the constitutional debate on the ‘kadhi courts’, and the increasing lowering of standards in our media industry. Christians more and more feel helpless & uninformed about the issues, and thus unable to contribute usefully. Churches will need to proactively set reasoned ethical guidelines and train their congregations to live by these. They will also need to recognize that while it is important to engage in bringing positive transformation to our society, our society is far from ‘Christian’, and it will be increasingly harder to expect it to operate on Christian moral principles. We will need to know which ‘battles’ are worth fighting, and to avoid being sidetracked from our calling.
Does the church in Africa have the courage to define what needs to be done and to do it?