The Church struggles to find its way in a fast-changing world

Christians at a crusade. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • That the Kenyan believer is gullible is no longer news. He or she trusts bishops, apostles and pastors who claim to possess divine power to cure any sickness, cast out demons and foretell the future.

  • Prof Kodia believes those who desert mainstream churches for the evangelical ones are driven by the desire for quick fixes to their problems, not because they have failed to get spiritual nourishment in the mainstream church.

The Church is growing in Kenya and, as new research indicates, the country will in the next 40 years be among the top nine with a large congregation of Christians. But the growth is fraught with challenges.


At the moment there are about 2.3 billion Christians in the world and 1.8 billion Muslims but that gap, according to the US-based Pew Research Centre, is expected to narrow by 2060, when there will be three billion Christians and nearly the same number of Muslims.

“That’s because Muslims, on average, are younger and have more children than do Christians,” notes the Centre. “In 2060, the share of the world’s Muslims living in the countries with the 10 largest Muslim populations is expected to be slightly lower than it is today. Meanwhile, the share of Christians living in the 10 countries with the highest Christian populations is expected to remain the same, at 48 per cent.”

Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda will enter the top 10 nations hosting Christians by 2060, replacing Russia, Germany and China, according to projections.

But what will the future of the Church look like in a fast-changing world?


The traditional church is facing a significant test in the form of the rise of evangelicals and other splinter groups. The church in the 21st century is different and is increasingly characterised by a spiritually charged atmosphere where energetic singing, dancing and passionate prayers are part of the mix.

There is also a growing rise of charismatic pastors who have fashioned their sermons to sound like those of influential evangelists such as Americans TD Jakes – he of The Potter’s House fame – and the late Billy Graham.

“Populism has taken over from preaching to spiritually and morally uplift the congregation,” laments Mombasa Catholic Archdiocese Vicar-General, Fr Wilbard Lagho. “We are seeing more and more populist preachers who will do anything for popularity.”

The clergy have traditionally been highly respected, but some of that respect is waning because, as many Christians admit, money has become the top priority for many preachers.

Some of the self-proclaimed preachers and prophets, who lack religious doctrine, claim to be under the guide of the Holy Spirit to help the faithful, but have now commercialised their encounters with the very flock they are supposed to lead.


Pentecostal churches, which have been rated second after Roman Catholic with regard to discipline of doctrine, have been cited for many cases of the vice compared to the latter, which is guided by a universal code.

Fr Lagho says populist preachers of the prosperity gospel who demonise every human problem, personalise their churches, and administer fake healings have, in some places, taken over the Church and changed its course.

In the wake of their religious disruptions, they have hit mainstream churches the most, raiding them for followers seeking the gospel of in-your-face spiritual nourishment and overnight miracles.

In the words of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Bondo Diocese Bishop, Prof David Kodia, the modern church is burdened with critical issues which were never anticipated during the early days of missionaries. He notes that this has made it difficult for most people to understand the actual role of the Church in society.

“The Church’s role was limited to evangelism, which was geared towards converting people to become Christians and disciplining them,” he says.


That the Kenyan believer is gullible is no longer news. He or she trusts bishops, apostles and pastors who claim to possess divine power to cure any sickness, cast out demons and foretell the future. Prof Kodia believes those who desert mainstream churches for the evangelical ones are driven by the desire for quick fixes to their problems, not because they have failed to get spiritual nourishment in the mainstream church.

“Most people want instant remedy and that’s why they run to those churches that claim to offer instant healing and miracles, but soon they realise they are being duped,” he says.

But Fr Lagho says the spectacle of mainstream churches losing worshippers is no longer a worry as such since some of the faithful revert to their previous faith after being abused in their new churches. The Christian and Islamic religious scholar says some preachers are evangelising the gospel of prosperity instead of spiritual uplifting.

“It is just a conspiracy,” he says. “If you believe every human problem is the devil, you go to the preachers so that they can cast out the devil, but you have to pay for the ‘services’.”

The religious scholar decries how easy it has become for any self-proclaimed pastor, prophet or bishop to establish a church without corresponding religious studies.


To curb the mushrooming of pseudo-pastors, the clergyman says the government should come up with a law barring individuals from proclaiming to be pastors or bishops.

He says interfaith organisations and ecumenical councils should hold forums that should have inbuilt mechanisms to regulate the conduct of their members.

One of the most worrying trends is the privatisation of ministry where, in the words of Fr Lagho, “the preacher is the signatory and the wife is the second signatory”.

“It is unfortunate that some of the church ministers are demanding money from the faithful to administer blessings. This is not what Jesus Christ taught us to do in our ministerial work,” said Jonah Maiyo of the Pentecostal Assembly of God (PAG), Nandi County.

In 2016, Kenya tried to tame rogue preachers but the attempt was thwarted by faith-based organisations, forcing an angry President Uhuru Kenyatta to wade into the matter, warning that rogue preachers were stealing from the faithful and ought to be weeded out.


“They are thieves, not preachers,” said President Kenyatta. “There are some rogue preachers who are out to fleece the public of their money. We have to consult and know how to remove them. The best situation is self-regulation.”

He directed then Attorney-General Githu Muigai to consult the Church over the issue.

But Kenya is not the only country caught in this conundrum. Rwanda, which grappled with the same problem for years, tamed rogue preachers through legislation.

Last year, Paul Kagame’s government closed more than 700 churches and some mosques as it moved to institute guidelines on how faith-based organisations should operate.

The law in Kigali requires pastors to have a theology degree before they can start their own churches, and further declare any grants to the Rwanda Governance Board.

In Kenya, the Attorney-General published draft regulations that required all clerics to have requisite training, be registered members of professional organisations, and submit tax reports to the government. But the proposals were rejected unanimously by religious organisations, prompting the Head of State to withdrawal them.


This year, Kenyans were treated to pulpit drama pitting pastors Robert Wafula and his once-bosom friend and religious leader James Ng’ang’a when a video leaked showing the latter bashing his bishops.

In the video, the head of Neno Evangelism called critics within his church names and dared them to leave his ministry.

“You found me in this ministry and acquired wealth through my church. I swear before God, I will show you who Ng’ang’a is,” ranted the preacher.

For almost two weeks, the video trended on social media, forcing Pastor Wafula to quit the church on May 26. As expected, he started his own Shalom Miracle Church in Mombasa.

“I felt insulted. I don’t know how I had offended him. I resigned after seeing the video, it was a difficult decision. My family, including my wife and four children, supported me,” the 47-year-old said.


Soul Harvest Church evangelist Tony Tenguri accuses some faith-based organisations of modernising religion to attract the masses. He also warns the clergy against allowing politicians to hog the pulpit and personalising their places of worship.

Another emerging issue is acceptance of donations from politicians and whether some tenderpreneurs are using money to win congregations.

The Roman Catholic Church, in its Christmas communication, has prioritised corruption as the faithful mark the birth of Jesus Christ.

In notices to dioceses, the faithful have been urged to be in the forefront in fighting corruption and social evils, and living a just life. The church has issued stringent regulations on donations, placing a ceiling of Sh50,000 for personal cash donations and justification for any extra amounts.

Additional reporting by Dickens Wasonga and Barnabas Bii