Nobles shall come from Egypt;
Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God.
– Psalm 68:31
Africa is the most Christian continent in the world today. Hallelujah! In the year 2018, for the first time in history, there were more Christians in Africa than on any other continent in the entire world. The continent now has well over 670 million Christ-followers.
It gets even more impressive—by 2050 there will likely be more Christians in Africa (1.25 billion) than in the current second and third place contenders, Latin America (705 million) and Europe (490 million) respectively, combined. What shall we say to these things?
Yet we have three concerns. First, since the publishing of this joyous fact, we have traversed nearly every continent, including several countries within Africa itself, and have not found this momentous occasion in world history acknowledged much, let alone profusely celebrated to our satisfaction.
For over a thousand years, Europe has had the most Christians, until the last decade when Latin America slightly edged out Europe. And then in 2018, Africa happened. This is a seismic shift happening in our lifetime, right on our watch!
There have been many attempts to explain how this could’ve happened in a continent which barely a century ago was ignored even by the architects of the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh—there wasn’t a single continental African there. We don’t spend much time trying to unravel the why and how of the African boom and surmise the late Prof. Kwame Bediako’s one-word description of this incredulous phenomenon will suffice: surprise. ‘The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad’ (Ps 118:23-24).
Our second concern is that the quantity and quality of African Christians aren’t synonymous. While the exponential growth of African Christians is exciting, how many aren’t characterized by the infamous ‘a thousand miles wide but a half inch deep’ syndrome, where numerical growth happens without much depth? No doubt, the nature of global Christianity will be shaped by the African majority, from missiology and theology through public policy to international relations. The future of the global church is African. But what sort of Christianity will Africa offer and bequeath to the world?
Is Christianity Shrinking or Shifting?
When looking at the global church, the answer is both.
Our third concern is that from our studies of statistical projections, although this African lead is only going to increase—even to the extent that by 2050 Africa will have more Christians than the next two continents combined—these numbers are not adequately reflected in the number of Africans who will likely be faithful carriers of the authentic gospel abroad, ie missionaries and missional Christians. How come there will be more missionaries from continents with fewer Christians than from the one with the most Christians? Projections call us for preparation.
Our book, Africa to the Rest, aims to first expose and extol the African response of obedience to the Great Commission yesterday and today. We want to particularly emphasize praise to the God of Africa for letting a particularly dark and dreary era pass over us and for opening the gates into which we bring our thanksgiving offerings, treading into his courts with loud and joyful praise—with ululations and vigorous dancing and all.
Secondly, we would like to encourage and challenge a further exponential increase in that obedience to the global missio Dei while it is day, a ‘long obedience in the same direction’. Finally, we aim to inspire the upcoming generations of Global Southerners in general, but Africans in particular, with biblically grounded, yet innovative, out-of-the-box ideas that will engage the mission of God and emulate an effort equal to or surpassing this current African obedience.
Yaw Perbi and Sam Ngugi
We desire to show that the notion of Africans as missionaries to the unreached, unevangelized, and unchurched world is not just a hope, an ideal, a pipedream, or a pie-in-the-sky phenomenon. Instead, it is real and happening live, right under our noses. We only pray for more, much more!
Today the leaders of global mission organizations like SIM, Navigators, SIL, Langham Partners, and Global Christianity Forum are led by a Nigerian, Kenyan, Cameroonian, Nigerian, and Ghanaian, respectively. The most multinational congregation in the world, comprising 110 nationalities, was founded and is led by a Ghanaian in Canada. A number of denominations from Africa have crossed over from Africa to plant churches in over 100 countries on all continents.
We highlight several other noteworthy examples in the book, including our own personal journeys, for inspiration and emulation and open discussions on how Africa, including the African diaspora and people of African descent, can steward her unprecedented God-given moment in global mission history well.
The first time I (Yaw) spoke comprehensively on this book’s subject, it was under a longer title. This was at a Building Relationships Intentionally with the Diaspora for Global-Gospel Expansion (BRIDGE) conference in Houston, Texas (US) under the auspices of the Movement for African National Initiatives (MANI).
Right after the conference, I perceived the material was book-worthy and started in that direction, expanding on it a little further. After more than a year of gestation and rather slothful writing, my co-author Sam and I met at a Global Mobilization Network event in Brazil. It was at this event that Dr. T.V. Thomas challenged Sam and me to consider that it would take ‘radical collaboration’ of the body of Christ to ‘close’ the Great Commission in our generation. Sam and I looked at each other and said, ‘Why don’t we team up to beef up and finish this book together as a radical pan-African collaboration for the sake of the mission of God?’ So here we are today!
We are fully aware that in this era of polycentric mission, there isn’t only one sending centre, for instance, ‘from the West to the rest’, and that mission is really from everywhere to everywhere. In fact, the world Christianity movement has always had many centres.
Polycentrism as the New Leadership Paradigm
A collaborative, communal, trinitarian approach is the new era of leadership.
Yet we have intentionally titled our book this way for a ‘shock and awe’ effect on those who wonder, ‘Can anything good come out of Africa?’ We do this to look closely at the global mission highways that run from Africa to the rest of the world, and from Africa to the remaining unreached people groups, to finish the task of world evangelization.
So yes, we do know about polycentric mission, but we won’t let that notion divert us from closely examining and celebrating the unique work of God in and through Africa(ns) or to dilute the essence of this phenomenal postmodern African missionary thrust!
First, in chapter one, ‘Past Participation’, we highlight several significant contributions of Africa(ns) to the missio Dei in scripture and over the last couple of millenniums, as well as a brief overview of Africa to the rest in the recent past. Then in chapter two, we dive into ‘Passionate Praise’—to God—including a brief capture of our paths to this missionary journey from Africa to the rest.
Subsequently, in chapter three, we analyze Africa’s ‘Present Potential’ vis-a-vis mission mobilization of the continent and right afterwards diagnose and treat some ‘Persistent Problems’ standing in the way of a better gospel movement in and through Africa(ns) in chapter four.
In the fifth chapter, we distill a handful of ‘Principal Principles’ for a fruitful continuation of Africa to the rest and follow that with ‘Progressive Preparation’, providing food for thought regarding strategic preparation for global leadership and global harvest in chapter six.
The final chapter, ‘Practical Participation’, cuts to the chase, serving nine practical steps for anyone, irrespective of demographics or geographic location, to be a committed participant in the mission of God.
Out of Africa
The numerical advantage of African Christianity is useless unless it is linked up with the total mobilization of the entire constituents of the African church as a potent mission force to the rest of the world and the remaining unreached people groups, for the glory of God!
Consequently, our big dream is that every African Christian, continental and diasporic, will be imparted with vision and be empowered to transmit the gospel of Jesus Christ in word, deed, and power right where they are and beyond.
Our dream is that every African Christian would become a catalyst to build a world in which there is the gospel for every person, a disciple-making church for every people and place, Christ-like leaders for every church and sector, and kingdom impact in every sphere of society, to the glory of the missionary God! Out of Africa to the rest!
Editor’s Note: This article is an adaptation of the preface and conclusion of the recently published book Africa to the Rest, written by the authors.
Africa to the Rest
Yaw Perbi and Sam Ngugi
Africa is the most Christian continent in the world today. This book celebrates this momentous occasion in world history while tracing God’s goodness to Africa in scripture and throughout history.
- Todd M. Johnson et al., “Christianity 2018: More African Christians and Counting Martyrs,” International Bulletin of Mission Research 42, no. 1 (January 2017): pp. 20-28, https://doi. org/10.1177/2396939317739833. ↑
- The phrase, ‘A thousand miles wide but a half inch deep’ is attributed to J.I. Packer as quoted by his friend and Lausanne co-founder John Stott during the September 1999 International Consultation on Discipleship in Eastbourne, England. ↑