NOTE: This analysis relates to evangelical Protestant Churches. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have a very different structure that leads to different potentials.
Relating to the church type
There is a tendency to share models that are successful in one place to a different situation where the model that is good for one area may not relevant for another. By more careful thinking of the circumstance of the church, it should be possible to be more discerning in determining what model will transfer well. Of particular significance in this respect is how well established and influential a denomination is in an area. In Africa, denominations tend to be structured in relation to people groups (tribes, or in some cases smaller or larger groupings), and the degree of influence a particular denomination has in a people group is very significant for thinking on relevant development approaches. The relevant type of development approach must depend on the potential of the denomination while accepting the constraints or limitations that it faces. These, in turn, have a close correlation to the nature of the church in a particular people group.
1. Where one denomination is dominant and a majority of the population have allegiance to that denomination, which is therefore respected and has a potentially almost universal influence.
2. Where the majority of the population have allegiance to one or other of many denominations, but there are many different denominations competing for allegiance. Most of the people share the same respect for the Bible and the church, but structurally they belong to many different denominations. Identity is often more in being a member of a particular denomination than being a Christian.
3. Where the church does not yet spread to the majority of the population but one or only a few denominations are having a significant presence in the area. The church is respected but does not have the allegiance of the majority of the population.
4. The evangelical church is a minority group in a culturally antagonistic environment. There is often persecution. This may be from Muslims, Majority Orthodox or Catholic cultures or where Witchcraft is active. e.g. Some areas of KHC in Ethiopia (e.g. Chencha), the Protestant church in much of Francophone Africa, and EER in Rwanda,
This analysis has many implications on the nature and the most appropriate way of working of the church in a particular people group. Some of these factors have been summarised in the following table:
It is important in any situation that the involvement of the church in development be tailored towards the overall church situation in an area. The church must play to its potentials. For any church, motivation from the Bible must be a significant resource but how this is used in development will depend on the influence of the church locally and the degree of competition or cooperation.
Looking at the significance of the church to the different people groups is entirely relevant in Africa as it is the way that the church is structured, and is the way that spirituality is expressed. Looking at the reality is different from the negative aspects of tribalism that can be xenophobic and competitive. This model is looking at the potential that a church can have in a particular area and basing relationships and interventions on that reality.
Where one denomination is dominant the existing church structure is easy to work through, but when there are many competing denominations a more sensitive approach may be needed in order to be able to share the common message.