From stagnation to revitalization : A study of select turnaround churches in the urban context of Nairobi, Kenya
Atoyebi, Peter Olusola
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The city of Nairobi, Kenya, is plagued by the aching problem of multitudes of stagnant churches cramping the metropolis amidst a few mega churches. This research aims to identify the factors of revitalization in selected churches that have succeeded in bringing about a turnaround in this urban context and to propose a model feasible for revitalizing stagnant churches in the city. The researcher wants to go beyond acknowledging the urban church growth problem of stagnation by seeking to understand the perceptions of numerical growth amongst church leaders and the members of six selected churches that have undergone a turnaround in Nairobi. These churches are: African Inland Church; All Nations Gospel Church; Deliverance Church; Gospel Revival Centre Church; Pentecostal Assemblies of God; and Uthiru Pentecostal Church. Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods, questionnaires were administered to 600 randomly selected church members from six selected churches, while face-to-face interviews were conducted with 100 pastors and church leaders. The analysis of both research instruments led to the discovery of perceptions of what constitutes the factors of stagnation and revitalization at the different stages of each congregation. In order to develop a proposed model of revitalization for the metropolis, eight critical elements of revitalization common to all the churches were identified and analysed as normative turnaround elements. Two groups of supplementary factors of revitalization were noted in addition: common factors that address converts’ entry points and membership expectations, and non-common issues that may not be applicable universally, but nevertheless play significant roles in church growth, depending on the context and strategy that a local congregation opts for. The research contributes to the understanding of urban mission work and church growth within the context of a growing African metropolis like Nairobi. A few urban mega churches colour the perception of missiologists and church historians on the plight of sprawling stagnant congregations on the African continent. The implication that this holds for urban missio Dei is the wholesale marketing and misapplication of the strategies used by big churches to small congregations, leading to an increased decline in membership and eventual retardation of the salvation of the city. Furthermore, the city church perceives spiritual growth to be subsumed in the pursuit of numerical growth, and that God is where the ‘church’ is, leading to a gulf between growth and grace in the urban mission work of Nairobi. Churches stagnate not because of a lack of external inducement to growth (the existence of which is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to church growth), but the absence of internal growth dynamics. This originates with a weak and non-credible pastor that has lost vision and passion for sacrificial ministry to a congregation that is adrift in the church boat of socio-political wrangling and misplaced kingdom priorities. The church begins to grow when it starts to act out its calling as salt and light in the world. Again, churches grow inside out and the turnaround experience is a product of strong pastoral leadership that is surrounded by a balanced mix of well mobilized and enabled members serving in all units of church ministries. When set in motion, such a revitalization process will propel the urban church to both quantitative and qualitative growth that would prepare it in readiness for its place in the New Jerusalem where “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” will gather with the shout of the final hallelujah “to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” that “was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise” (Rev. 5:12, 13).
- Theology