Deliverance Church. This is the newest church in Lumakanda. Notice the octagon shape. If you look closely you can see that it is not yet finished. For example, there is no glass in the windows. Nonetheless the church is in use. Deliverance Church is a Kenyan church which in 1970s broke away from the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) and now has 700 churches in Kenya.
I question the conventional wisdom that Africans are more “religious” than Americans or Europeans. I take here the word “religious” to mean joining and actively participating in an organized church. First I am presenting pictures of some of the churches in Lumakanda and then discuss the implications.
Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) church is next door to the Friends Church. This church along with the Friends Church are the two with the most parishioners during a Sunday service.
Salvation Army Church. On many Sundays their band marches around Lumakanda stopping at various places, singing and praying. It is one of the larger churches in Lumakanda. There is a nursery school housed in this church.
This is the Anglican Church (Episcopal Church in the US). It also houses a nursery school during the week.
A picture of the Baptist Church.
Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah Witnesses. It should not be a surprise that the Jehovah Witnesses have reached Lumakanda.
The local Mosque. Note the loudspeaker at the top of the minaret on the left. This is a new development in the last few months where the Mosque broadcasts the call to prayer five times per day at 5:00 am, 8:00 am, noon, 4:00 pm, and 8:00 pm. There are very few Muslims in Lumakanda and you can see that the mosque is in need of repairs and refreshing.
Triumph Church of the Calvary Gospel Centre. This is a “holy roller” church.
Sign for the Gospel Foundation Centre of Christian Outreach Ministries World Wide. Except that it is a Pentecostal church, I know nothing about this church. Note that the Sunday service is 4 hours long.
A church building without a sign board on the outside – Gladys thinks this is called Redeemer Gospel Church. Unlike the other churches this one is in need of upkeep and repairs.
In addition to the churches pictured, there are other churches including the following:
Seventh Day Adventist
Shalom Kenya Assemblies of God, next to our old house
Church of God
A Catholic Church about a mile out of town
A church that meets in the Lumakanda social hall
Some smaller churches on the outskirts of Lumakanda
This is a total of eighteen churches of which eight are Pentecostal churches. As you can see from the pictures many of them are of considerable size and are kept up nicely. This might lead the casual observer to conclude that Kenyans are quite religious and regularly attend one of the many churches. Unfortunately this is not the case. On Sunday morning (except the Mosque on Friday and the Seventh Day Adventists on Saturday) most of these churches are sparsely attended. As I walk home from the Friends Church on Sunday morning I can see the number of people in the churches that are still in session. While the Friends Church usually has about 100 teenagers and adults attending, when people are squeezed together during a wedding the church can accommodate 700 people. One hundred is therefore not near its capacity. The Pentecostal Assemblies of God which is right next door to the Friends Church also has roughly 100 people in attendance each Sunday. The Deliverance and Salvation Army churches have 50 to 75 people. Then the Anglican Church has about 10, the Shalom Kenya Assemblies of God has 5 to 10 people, and the Triumph Church of the Calvary Gospel Centre has only 5 people.
Lumakanda is a modest sized town and the countryside surrounding the town within walking distance of the churches in town is thickly populated. About 20% of the population of the United States attends church each week (by counting the number of people in churches versus the 40% who claim that they attend weekly). This seems to me to be about the same percentage here in Lumakanda.
The conventional wisdom is that Christianity is declining in Europe and the United States, but the attendance in Lumakanda is about the rate in Europe and the US. In Kenya, people do not have an identity as a Kenyan, but that of their tribe, sub-tribe, and clan. It is only when they leave Kenya for foreign countries does the Kenyan identity become more important. Likewise every Kenyan will identify with a church. Yet many will rarely attend the church that they identify with.
This non-attendance is clear to me as I walk in town on Sunday morning. While some of the shops are closed, others are open. There are only a few people walking in town to church in their “Sunday best.” There are other people in town who are wearing their everyday clothes which indicates that they don’t plan on attending church. I can see others tending to their gardens. Moreover on Sunday morning the number of people in town is no more than usual. By Sunday afternoon and evening, the town is crowded with people walking on the streets as they relax on a day without work or school.
In the United States, the Public Religion Research Institute finds that 25% of Americans, particularly young people, do not identify with any church. These people are called “nones.” My interpretation here is that Americans are just becoming more honest about their church attendance. The difference as I see it here in Kenya is that people still identify with a church even if they rarely or never attend. If I am correct in my observations, then Christianity, as it declines in Europe and the US, is not going to be “saved” by expansion in Africa and other parts of the global south.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
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