by Donald Hohensee
Church growth is a complicated, multi-faceted study. But church growth is also a must, not just an interesting subject to discuss at the afternoon tea. I, for one, believe the church must grow. If it doesn’t, we need to know why.
Church growth is a complicated, multi-faceted study. But church growth is also a must, not just an interesting subject to discuss at the afternoon tea. I, for one, believe the church must grow. If it doesn’t, we need to know why. On the other hand, if the church is growing, we can find reasons for growth, to help us keep the church growing at its optimum rate. I want to share an example of growth, because I believe it holds an important key to future advancement.
World Gospel Mission has been working in Burundi since 1939. Our area of work has been the eastern border of Burundi, largely the province of Ruyigi. Along the border with Tanzania lies the Moso Valley. One of the common ways to slander an individual in Burundi is to indicate that he comes from the Moso. Most of the Barundi consider the Moso the most backward area of Burundi. Traditional religion is much more openly practiced in the Moso than elsewhere in Burundi.
World Gospel Mission attempted to plant churches in the Moso beginning in the late forties. Very few of these churches had taken root as late as 1972. In December, 1973, one church had 10 baptized members. The other seven churches in the Buhonga district (which is where most of our Moso Valley work is located) had 31 members together . The eight churches had 30 probationers. The average Sunday morning attendance was 95 people in these churches.
Today (the latest statistics available to me are for June, 1978) the district has 290 baptized Christians, 453 probationers, an average Sunday morning attendance of 1,508 and 27 churches. What has happened in these five years?
There are several factors that account for this good growth: (1) Buhonga was made a separate district of the church. Earlier, it had been attached for awhile to Kayero and then later to Murehe, depending on who could give it a little oversight. (2) An African pastor was assigned to Buhonga. He is a Spirit-filled Christian with a burden to see his people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
(3) A missionary was assigned to Buhonga with the gift of evangelism. He hasn’t yet been tied down with medical or educational work. (4) Pastor and missionary alike have formulated hard, bold plans for planting churches. (5) A gospel of "power encounter" has been proclaimed. All of these, and more, account for this good growth, but I feel the latter is by far the most important.
By "power encounter" I mean a confrontation between the gods somewhat similar to Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. Here is a little of what has been happening:
I want to use the example of the Bugongo church, for it is at this moment the most exciting example of power encounter. However, other examples from other churches could be cited, for this has been pretty much a district-wide phenomenon. In 1973, Bugongo was not even a preaching point in the Buhonga district. Today, this church has six baptized Christians, 130 probationers, and an, average Sunday morning attendance of 140. A large group, was baptized at, Christmas, 1978, from Bugongo.
The church received a plot of ground from the government at Bugongo so services could begin. A small church was built of bamboo and grass. For several months only a few people attended, most of them children.
It was very hard for the preacher to hold the attention of those who came, because 100 feet from the church was a site of pagan worship. People brought their offerings of beans and beer to this rock, called Nyamavuta, for the god of good fortune. Those sitting inside the little church could watch the other worshippers by the rock. Often, what was going on at the rock was more interesting.
A vacation Bible school was planned for Bugongo. After a day or two of classes, trying to hold the children’s attention, the preacher decided something had to be done. He and his helper secured a sledge and a bar, to dig out Nyamavuta and smash him to bits. The next day they announced their plan to those attending Bible school. They just couldn’t believe their ears, because anyone attempting something like this would either go crazy or die in a short time.
After the Bible school program, the preacher and his helper, in front of the small congregation, broke up the rock and dug it out of the ground. Excitement ran high among the children. They raced home to tell their parents what had happened. The parents couldn’t believe their ears. They said, "The preacher will go crazy or be dead by morning."
In the morning the children, their parents, and others came to see what had happened to the preacher. They found him quite well and in his right mind. They said, "Well, by tomorrow something will certainly happen."
They returned the next day and found that he was still well and sane. Their next reaction was, "These men are serving a god who is more powerful than ours." Sick people began to come to the services; the preacher prayed for them and they recovered, many of them instantly. Those who were possessed with evil spirits came and were prayed for. They, too, were delivered and went home free.
Before praying for physical healing or deliverance, the preacher counseled the people that they had to break with sin completely, or they couldn’t be healed or delivered. Many of the people had charms and fetishes, so he instructed them to destroy these things and place their trust in Jesus alone. After the people brought these things, they burned them in front of the congregation. Then the pastor prayed for them.
After a time, several witch doctors, rain-makers, and other medicine men came to repent. They brought their wares to be burned. These items often cost thousands of francs, a sizeable investment in their economy.
The small church had to be enlarged; still not everyone could get in. Since then, a rock-walled, metal-roofed church has been built. It is already too small.
Many things contribute to church growth. A very effective means in the Moso Valley in these days has been a gospel of power encounter. The Burundi grapevine has been effective in spreading the news: "If you can’t get deliverance from evil spirits elsewhere, go to the Protestants; their God is able."
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