African Church Information Service, Sep. 9, 2002
By Joyce Mulama
The rapid growth of Christianity in Kenya has been attributed to rising levels of poverty. But the increasing number of Christians has been described as “nominal”, with many claiming to be Christians but not living within the tenets of biblical teachings.
Mr Duncan Olumbe, the Missions Director of the Fellowship of Christian Unions in Kenya FOCUS, observed that Christianity enjoyed a 78.64 percent majority and was growing at a rate of 2.0 percent.
Addressing participants at the annual theological lectures, Olumbe noted that many people were resorting to “prosperity gospel” as a way out of poverty. “Those who are poor are promised prosperity provided they ‘plant a seed’- give whatever they have to church in anticipation of a ten-fold, even hundred-fold multiplication of what they give,” he said.
In his paper titled Poverty: Catalyst or Impediment for Church Growth; A Kenyan Perspective, Olumbe pointed out that many Christians were forming churches not ready to deliver the Gospel but to seek to “make ends meet.”
He regretted that some churches were tackling poverty by depending on donors, a notion displaying Kenyans as too poor to meet the needs of their churches. “
Some church leaders spend months abroad raising funds for the cause of the Gospel. This school of thought is hardly different from the government, which keeps running to the Western donors for aid and so long as the dollar keeps coming, Christians in these churches end up with a beggar mentality,” he said.
He criticised charismatic churches for not reaching out to the poor population, most of who are in the rural areas, saying they tended to focus more on the middle class where the possibility of better cash flow was likely.
“The presence of charismatic churches are hardly there in slums, street families, among others. Where they have attempted to be involved, the resultant projects tend to be poorly managed and narrow in focus,” he said.
In his incisive presentation, Olumbe further pointed out that the Church was failing in its responsibility of giving hope to disadvantaged groups in society.
“Time had come for the Church to consider income generating projects and offer entrepreneurial skills to its members as a way of getting out of poverty”.
Olumbe underscored the need for churches to form critically evaluated partnerships without the negative tendencies of paternalism and dependency.
He underlined the need to develop a “Biblical theology of poverty and wealth” in order to combat prosperity gospel which was rapidly sweeping over the country.
He further said that the Church in Africa and in Kenya in particular, seemed challenging. “This is because people are continuing to discover that prosperity gospel holds empty promises which might result in disillusionment with the Church,” he explained.
Olumbe observed the need to address the “mega-church syndrome”, whereby affluent churches competed with each other for prestige rather than evangelisation, and come up with genuine church planting strategies that would stem the awkward growth.
To get poverty fully on the agenda of public policy, Olumbe suggested that good governance was needed to enhance the capacity of government and church to deliver and to be accountable for resources at their disposal.