Attendance at Kenya’s Protestant churches is plummeting as Kenyans flock towards exciting new cults or back to traditional religions.
The study, carried out by evangelical church groups, warns that while Protestantism nominally accounts for 65 per cent of Kenyan Christians, only seven per cent of the population attends a Protestant or evangelical church on a typical Sunday.
The study identified rural communities, long assumed to be the bastion of Protestant worship, as those where the established church was losing most ground. In contrast, Nairobi — long regarded as a city of sin — was the centre of religion and worship.
Researchers also found that more than 100 years after the first missionaries arrived in Kenya, at least 20 rural ethnic communities, mainly in Rift Valley, Coast, North Eastern and Eastern provinces, had never known Christianity at all.
The survey was commissioned by the Africa Centre For Missions-Finish The Task (ACM-FFT Afriserve) and funded by a Christian NGO, Dawn Ministries.
ACM-FFT Afriserve is a group of evangelical clergymen headed by Bishop Boniface Adoyo of Nairobi Pentecostal Valley Road Church. It includes the heads of the Anglican, PCEA, Methodist, Redeemed and Kenya Assemblies of God churches.
It was formed in 1997 after an international religious meeting in South Africa registered that 22 of Kenya’s 297 ethnic groups had no knowledge of Protestant Christianity.
The survey set out to establish the number, size and location of existing Protestant churches in Kenya. It also aimed to identify the factors helping or hindering the campaign to evangelise Kenya.
It found most new churches were started in areas and among communities and classes already well served by Protestantism. “We (Evangelical churches) tend to target people like us, who live in similar environments as ourselves and those we are accustomed to,” observed analyst Dr Stephen Kabachia.
The highest turnover of worshippers from one congregation to another was observed in Nairobi. “Whenever a new preacher moves into the city and focuses on certain felt needs of the people, he appeals to the crowd,” says Rev Geoffrey Njuguna.
“When there appears to be manifestation of the working spirit or the ostracising (sic) of demons, the crowd moves there in big numbers, regardless of whether sound doctrinal truth is upheld or not.”
Protestants currently account for 65 per cent of Kenya’s Christian population, followed by Catholics with 21 per cent and African Instituted Churches with 9 per cent.
The Catholic Church, according to the Kenya Episcopal Conference, has 6.9 million followers in Kenya, with the highest population of 1 million found in Nairobi, followed by Meru at 700,000. Garissa, with just 7,000 members, has the least Catholics.
The new study blamed a high level of nominalism (those sliding away from Christian values), witnessed in Central Province, on the rise of traditional sects such as Mungiki and the Tent of the Living God. In Nyanza, it cited the rise of cultic sects and people’s attachment to cultural practices as posing the greatest threat to Protestantism. The worst affected regions were Ugunja in Siaya, Maseno, lower Nyakach, Katito and Machanyu.
Christianity in Rift Valley Province was also under threat from cultural practices amon such tribes as the Dorobo, Chamus, Daasanach and Endo, who were yet to be fully penetrated, the study found.
Among Protestants, Nairobi boasts the highest level of church attendance — 16 per cent on any given Sunday.
Eastern Province follows (12 per cent), Rift Valley and Central (seven per cent each), Nyanza (six per cent), Western and Coast (five per cent each). Muslim-dominated North Eastern notched only 0.13 per cent.
The study found that in Eastern Province, where 15 per cent of Kenya’s population lives, Meru South was the most evangelised area.