The Kenyan church and the gospel of prosperity
Posted Wednesday, February 13 2013 at 02:00
- The Kenyan Church is on a roll, but what’s the inspiration behind its colossal growth over the past decade?
- Occasionally, an issue arises and, with it, many questions and answers that are neither wrong nor right. In such situations, the dapper dauntlessly dare to debate, while the flippant frivolously flirt with the idea. Take, for instance, the question: How did the church in Kenya get so BIG? From the 1970s to date, what was and what is are now worlds apart
GENESIS: In the beginning… Churches were once modest and respected and men of God were held in awe. Church buildings then were broody, stolid, and intimidating structures that made one feel like... God is here.
Those who missed the service would be briefed when their peers got back home and the church mice — priests, deacons, fathers, reverends — were poor, could barely afford a shave, and wore cheap shirts and suits.
EXODUS: The departure… In 2007, the then Attorney General Amos Wako was quoted as saying that Kenya had over 8,000 registered churches and that the office of the registrar of societies received more than 60 applications a month.
At the time of the announcement, more than 6,000 applications were pending.
Quite a big number, that. Which brings us to how the past three decades have seen a transformation in the Kenyan church that is almost biblical. From the structures, leadership, and membership to the way of worship, the changes have been phenomenal.
Church buildings today are warm, exciting, and welcoming structures that make one feel like... a friend is here. On Sunday, those at home can follow the service through Facebook or Twitter or on TV.
The church mouse is today wealthy, debonair, adroitly shaven, and knows that Dolce & Gabbana are not part of the cities of the Decapolis.
There has been a revolutionary explosion within the church in Kenya. The question is, what caused this religious bubble? What changed?
LEVITICUS: Regulations for worship and for priests… Is it the new church approach? Before, people went to church, but now the church has come to the people. In a public bus, a preacher will walk in and preach. In markets and towns, street preachers with black Bibles rule.
In prisons, hospitals, and schools, religious groups visit, doing rounds like guards, nurses, and deputy principals. And today’s church buildings get constructed in people’s backyards.
A reverend leading a nationwide denomination says the period that saw the rise of individual evangelical churches was marked by a change from liturgy and the mystical sacredness of worship as practised by the mainstream (traditional) churches to free, flexible, and open forms of worship.
With freedom, church leaders also changed. Pastors are no longer insipid and enigmatic. These days they wear charisma and flair on their sleeves and are more grandiloquent than politicians. Also gone is their insular nature and in its place is an emancipated man of God. Suave, debonair, and well versed in any issue under the sun. Most of them are young and well educated.
They brought life and technology to the pulpit. Music bands and modern musical accompaniments have joined the choir. Some people attend the service with their iPads instead of the Bible, and some of those without iPads still do not carry the Bible since 56-inch flatscreen TVs mounted on every wall will show Bible readings and lyrics to the songs. Even the hymn book is losing out.
These new church pastors are liberal and do not just make arbitrary decisions on behalf of the church. They consult the congregation through discussions and meetings. They give out questionnaires; What would you want changed in the Sunday service? Which visiting preacher should we invite for the Supper Sunday?
The new church is a 24/7 affair with gatemen, receptionists, administrators, and pastors at their desks from 8am to 5pm. Sunday best just lost its meaning.
NUMBERS: The church census and persistent care for his people… Or is it people’s needs? In a 40-million constitutionally secular country that has an 83 per cent Christian population, the figures grossly increased from the 21.4 million 1989 national total head count with a probably much less Christian percentage.
Development over the past two decades has seen peoples’ problems mutate. People seek answers, they go to God, and thus churches in Kenya have learnt to meet each person at their point of need.
There are services for different age groups and gender. Baby Dedication — where children are put before God. Sunday School — where children are told about God. Teen Ministry — where teenagers question themselves before God.