The Rise Of The “Reverse-Missionaries”

Adedamola Osinulu argues that dramatic growth of African Pentecostal churches in the US “demands a change in how we, in both secular and religious America, understand our relationship to African Christians and Christianity as a whole”:

Africans’ interest in Pentecostalism was fueled by literature emanating from North America in the 1970s and ’80s. But, as one example of how they re-shaped Pentecostal theology to be more responsive to local practitioners’ material conditions, they presented a God who is deeply invested in believers’ fiscal and physical well-being in the present, not just the fate of their souls in the after-life. Amidst the swirling political and economic crises of the postcolonial state, this was an immensely attractive proposition.

Conceiving themselves as part of a global religious community, they began to export their brand of Christianity around the globe. As a result, we find that the largest single congregation in Europe, the 25,000-member Embassy of God, is a Pentecostal church founded by a Nigerian man. Today the largest African Pentecostal organizations are sending so-called “reverse-missionaries” to North America and Europe. One of those groups, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), founded in Nigeria, has 15,000 parishes around the globe including at least one in every major North American city.

Last month, Jason Margolis reported on the RCCG’s efforts in America. Keating’s take-away from the piece:

American missionaries played an important part of spreading the faith around the world, but one question posed by researchers is whether the transmission would reverse: Would any of the hundreds of new denominations sprouting up in Africa cross the Atlantic and gain adherents in the United States? The decentralized structure of Pentecostalism leads to new branches and churches being created more quickly than in other forms of Christianity.

Margolis’ reporting on the Redeemed Christian Church of God seems to indicate we haven’t hit that point yet. The church’s members are nearly all Nigerian or African immigrants, and it has had a hard time expanding beyond those communities. But the Catholic Church certainly isn’t the only Christian denomination whose geographical center of gravity is shifting.

Previous Dish on the rise of African Pentecostalism here.