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Missions 101

Christianity is Not Exploding in Africa

Jul. 24, 2013By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

I have read, heard and said many times that “Christianity is exploding in Africa.” I now believe I am wrong. In 2010, The Pew Forum released on interesting report titled: Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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One part of the study was to look at the current rate of conversions to Christianity and Islam. What you find on the chart above is that there are very few conversions in the countries where data was collected. Part of the reason there is no conversion might be because there is no one left to convert (see Zambia and Rwanda). But - it still calls into question our frequent saying that Christianity is exploding in Africa.

I think it would be helpful to qualify Africa’s growth by noting three things:

1. Christian faith did explode in Africa, especially between 1900-1970. There was also growth up until 2000, but at that point it seems to have flatlined.

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2. Very few try to qualify the kind of Christianity that is being converted to. Would you consider a person who claims to be Christian and sacrifices animals a believer? What about someone who denies the Trinity, or Jesus as the Son of God? What about the prosperity gospel? These type of unqualified statistics, which also appear in the US on a regular basis, don’t really tell the whole story. I once read a book on the history of missions in a West Africa country and not one time did the author address the kind of gospel that was being preached. Notice on the chart that it seems that the majority of people who converted to Christianity were converting from Traditional African Religions. One wonders whether Christianity was just tacked on.

 3. This is just speculation, but I wonder how much growth can be attested to family size. It seems that little conversion from Islam is currently happening, so why is Christianity still growing numerically so quickly. Could it be the size of families have something to do with it? This would not necessarily have an impact on the % of the population if it could be shown that everyone is having large families, but it certainly impacts the overall numbers.

So - let’s be careful. Let’s rejoice in what the Lord is doing and the fact that we can actually know what He is doing around the world. Let’s rejoice that people are turning to Christ. But, let’s also be careful and not exaggerate what the Lord is doing and in so doing undermine the very report we can rejoice over.

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. Before starting TLI he served for two years as the Interim Pastor of Pine City Evangelical Free Church in Pine City, Minn. He is currently a PhD student at London School of Theology. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Born to a military family, Darren grew up in San Diego, Calif., and Washington, D.C. He became a committed Christian through the ministry of InterVarsity on his college campus. After college he felt the call to vocational ministry while attending the LIFT discipleship program at Camp-of-the-Woods in upstate New York.

He received a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Mary Washington. He is also a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he earned a Master of Divinity and Master of Theology in New Testament. 

As President, Darren overseas the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. 

Darren and his wife Amy live in Andover, Minn., along with their five children.

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