Kenya’s mainstream churches have set aside huge budgets to attract and retain young people after losing them in droves, a Saturday Nation survey has revealed.
Unable to relate to mainstream churches’ conservative ways, the youth have sought solace in bars, discos and evangelical churches, where they feel their needs are accommodated.
But the big churches are fighting back in a bid to win back the young souls.
The Catholic Church, for instance, confirms that it is focusing on young people more than ever before by setting aside money for their activities.
Father Vincent Wambugu, the secretary-general at the Catholic Secretariat, says the money is assigned from the national office to dioceses and parishes.
Although he could not disclose the figures, the priest said the amount was “significant” and caters for all activities, including international ones.
Anglican Church of Kenya archbishop Dr Eliud Wabukala says the church can no longer ignore young people. ACK, he says, has dedicated money to construct facilities to accommodate the youth.
At Nairobi’s All Saints Cathedral, a Sh300 million multi-purpose hall is coming up largely to serve the youth.
The Provost Julius Wanyoike says the hall can accommodate up to 2,000 people. Similar facilities are being developed in other ACK branches countrywide, he says.
“The church is now flexible in its liturgical celebration. We allow the use of musical instruments to serve the youth,” the Rev Wanyoike says.
Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) youth director Simon Githiora says although the youth department had been in place since 1960, and will be marking its Golden jubilee in three week’s time, youth issues have never been taken more seriously than today, with the church’s youth network countrywide enjoying an annual budget of Sh650 million.
“Today, there are people employed directly to deal with the youth. We have five regional youth workers. Parishes have recruited youth pastors and we have come up with youth services,” he says.
Methodist Church of Kenya presiding bishop Stephen Kanyaru, says they accommodate the youth, with a modest annual budget of Sh1 million.
“We are building on that and we recently bought a car for the youth department. We started the department about 10 years ago,” Bishop Kanyaru says.
The Saturday Nation survey shows every forward-looking church scrambling for the youth. But there are conservative ones — like the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church, which, to-date, does not allow dancing in church, wearing of trousers by girls and women, wearing of earrings and women church ministers.
Senior SDA pastor Paul Muasya maintains the Bible is clear on some of these issues: “We maintain the biblical way.”
His views contrast with those of his colleague at the Mavuno Church, Pastor Muriithi Wanjau, who says culture changes both in the church and secular world. “The way my parents worshipped is not the way I worship,” he says.
The Rev Timothy Njoya, 69, a PCEA minister, does not subscribe to the so-called modern Christianity and the scramble for the youth. He objects to what he calls “electronic Christianity”.
He says although a few things have changed since he was moderator at St Andrews, including the fact that then women could not wear lipstick, he detests use of loud equipment to preach, which could render Kenya a nation of “deaf people”.
Dr Njoya talks of theological and spiritual garbage that has made churches here a dumping area of western spiritually — views that are echoed by Kitale Catholic Bishop Maurice Crowley, who laments the many “briefcase outfits” in Kenya.
The youth should not confuse the church with disco, he says, rooting for silence as more appropriate for worship.
“They should remember a church is not a hall, a market place or a disco hall... one does not go to the shamba wearing a tie.”
Rev Njoya says the current youth are suffering from lack of scholarly direction. He says the clamour for the youth has resulted in a flood of “ministers, pastors and apostles” who have never seen the gates of a seminary or even a theology class, leave alone going to university.
The prelate, who holds a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and doctor of divinity from Knox College, University of Toronto, says he is ashamed to share his titles with conning “ministers” whose fake titles confuse the youth into trusting them.
Empowering the youth
The Catholic Church, which is equally considered fairly conservative, has had to adopt to the youth’s modern way of worship, albeit cautiously.
Bishop Peter Kairu from Nyeri Archdiocese confirmed that the church is out to empower the youth.
“Priests have had to deal with the youth more carefully while educating them on matters of love, justice and reconciliation. And if they must dance, they have to do so in a dignified manner,” he says.
Bishop Kairu insists young people must be told how to dress and what not to do, like engaging in premarital sex.
The church has lined up programmes for the youth, including HIV/Aids awareness, guidance and counselling. The church, according to him, must not be afraid of youthful ideas as young people have a right to question and inspire church people to answer their questions.
Bishop Kanyaru (Methodist) says that although they lost a number of youth for being conservative, as they did not allow them to dance, jump and clap in church, there are some changes.