|Centre of Christianity Moves to Africa|
Centre of Christianity moves to Africa
By David Blair in Johannesberg
The Telegraph (UK)
If a clergyman's success is measured by the size of his flock, then Africa's priests stand to inherit the earth. Their congregations are growing faster than any since the earliest years of Christianity.
The pews of Africa's churches now hold 390 million worshippers – more than three times the total of 35 years ago. Over the next two decades, Africa's congregation is likely to grow by another 200 million, causing a huge shift in the character of the Christian faith.
Its heartland will move decisively southwards, away from the empty churches of Europe and into the developing world.
The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, an American think-tank based in a Protestant seminary, is charting this transformation and its findings are dramatic. Already, its study of "World Christian Trends" shows that white Europeans and Americans account for only 43 per cent of the world's Christians.
None of this comes as any surprise to Africa's clergy, who are well used to conducting three-hour services before packed churches.
"We are seeing a shift from a Eurocentric base for the Christian churches to a more worldwide base, including Africa and South America," said Bishop Michael Coleman, the vice-president of the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of Southern Africa. "Already, there's a small movement sending African clergy to Europe to re-evangelise people there. The centre of gravity of Christianity is shifting to the south."
Christianity's new "centre of gravity" can be pinpointed with precision. The geographical point at which an equal number of Christians lives to the north, south, east and west is now found in Timbuktu in the largely Muslim country of Mali.
By the end of this century, it will have left this city on the fringe of the Sahara desert and moved further south into Nigeria, the home of the world's second largest Anglican congregation.
In theory, Europe's churches, including those in Russia, still have 531 million worshippers. Yet only about 10 per cent regularly attend services and in Britain, the figure falls to seven per cent. Moreover, Europe's Christians are ageing and their population is expected to shrink by 17 million over the next two decades.
In Africa, by contrast, the Christian congregation has grown by more than 4,300 per cent since 1900, when it had fewer than 9 million worshippers. This rate of expansion is unparalleled since the early years of the Church.
Bishop Coleman gives the missionaries who criss-crossed Africa most of the credit for this. But he acknowledged that the world's poorest continent, where about two thirds of the population lives in absolute poverty, is fertile ground for the spread of Christianity.
"There's no doubt about that," he said. "If you look elsewhere in the world, you find that people in the flush of newly acquired wealth find their existence through this wealth and they no longer turn to God."
Yet a growing number of Africa's Christians do not belong to the traditional churches. Instead, evangelicals have attracted enormous followings. They fill the airwaves of Africa's satellite television channels with lengthy shows, often including sequences of them allegedly performing miracles.
One evangelical channel, broadcast in Uganda, shows long queues of people, many claiming to be deaf, others blind or lame, who are apparently cured when a preacher lays hands on them one by one.
South Africa offers a 24-hour premium rate telephone "prayer line".
The Roman Catholics and Anglicans are losing ground to these evangelicals, yet they still account for about half of Africa's Christians. And the influence of the oldest established denominations within the two Churches' global hierarchy is rising.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian, has been named as a possible successor to the Pope. Once the Archbishop of Onitsha in Nigeria, Cardinal Arinze leads the 147 million Catholics in Africa.
More than half of the world's 80 million Anglicans are Africans and Peter Akinola, the Nigerian Archbishop of Abuja, is central to the conservative opposition to ordaining practising homosexuals.