A Swazi church leader responds to a key church growth question out of his own experience in southern Africa
by Malachi Makhubela
The Church of the Nazarene began planting churches in Swaziland about 1911 when Harmon Schmelzenbach arrived at Peniel (Endzingeni). Over these eighty years the church has steadily grown with that growth actually accelerating in the decade 1980-90.
Among the ministries established by Nazarenes in Swaziland have been several institutions. In the past several years some church growth experts and missiologists have criticized such institutions as being a brake on church growth. I have, however, seen with my own eyes how instrumental institutions like a Bible college, teacher training college, hospital and clinics, nursing college, elementary schools, high schools and an orphanage have been in the salvation of souls and the verifiable growth of the church. Let me highlight some universally accepted church growth principles I have seen at work in Nazarene institutions in Swaziland.
Principle One: Churches grow as priority is given to effective evangelism.
The early converts in Swaziland were mainly illiterate. So, literacy programs were started right away to enable them to read the Bible. The first school at Grace Church (Phophonyane) and the Bible school at Pigg's Peak were both established with this purpose in mind. Grace church grew because the first twenty students of the school were among the first won to Christ. They witnessed to their families and brought them and others to church. Then, the students and converts of Grace Church under Miss Etta Innes helped clear the grounds for a church building at Pigg's Peak in 1914. Our historians consider this the first true African project of the church.
Further evidence that the institutions give priority to effective evangelism can be seen in the careful selection of teaching staffs, nurses, physicians and others. A conscious effort is made to select only committed and dedicated Christians who will use the opportunity of contact with people to evangelize and win them to Christ and to the Church. This pivotal factor in selection has been true even in those institutions where the government is paying almost all the bills.
Another area of evangelistic strength which institutions have contributed has been in the training of skilled Christian workers like nurses who serve not only in Nazarene clinics, but also in government ones. Likewise, the teacher college sends out qualified Christian teachers whose witness has strengthened the church and contributed to its growth even in remote parts of the country. At the end of each year, school managers from all over Swaziland scramble to get graduating Nazarenes, under scoring the quality of our institutional products.
One of the most recent signs of the priority given to evangelism has been the schools' evangelism program run in all 34 Nazarene primary schools, the 3 high schools and the teacher training college. An evangelist is appointed to conduct school revivals through the year. About 1300 are converted to Christ each year in these revivals. Not all join the Church of the Nazarene, of course. Still, both church membership and Sunday school attendance has shown improved percentage increases since the hiring of the school evangelist.
Principle Two: Churches grow as they recognize diverse needs and opportunity within the community to which they minister and seek to accordingly focus their message for maximum responsiveness.
As part of its cultural mandate,1 the Church must seek to meet the physical and social needs of the society in which it operates. To this end, the Swaziland Church of the Nazarene has established orphanages, health centers and schools. William Greathouse once wrote: "Compassion lay at the heart of Christ's ministry; it was an authentic expression of holiness. . . but the church was reluctant to embrace this ministry as a basic element in its mission. There was lingering apprehension that such activity might dilute the primary emphasis on evangelism. . . It was perceived that somehow the two were mutually exclusive."
Early Nazarene workers in Swaziland realized, however, that when the church abandons certain areas of human life, a vacuum is created which will be filled in one way or another. Thus, people are left to find solutions from unchristian beliefs like witchcraft and spirit worship.
So, medical missions work was introduced by Nazarenes into Swaziland in 1917. Not long after that a hospital was built in memory of Raleigh Fitkin, son of Nazarene missions promoter Susan N. Fitkin. In a recent year that hospital in Manzini treated 55,000 patients, while its fifteen clinics served 120,000 more. It also enrolled 121 nurses for training.
Dr. William Ruche of the school of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh has said that there are probably no two fields more closely allied than those of medicine and religion. He said: "There is no profession in which the professional man sees his clients at deeply religious moments so often as in the practice of medicine." This is because people in severe suffering or near death feel the need of religion. Our many medical workers have made their healing ministry a real effective vehicle for evangelism and church growth in Swaziland.
Even such need-meeting ministries like our orphanages and girls' homes have been important to the growth of the church. Out of them have come Spirit-filled evangelists, pastors, preachers' wives and Christian laymen.
1The cultural mandate is humanity's stewardship obligation to care for the earth God has entrusted to it (Gen. 1:26-28). The cultural mandate is complementary to the evangelistic mandate.
Principle Three: Churches grow as they reproduce themselves through planned parenthood.
Many waysides or preaching points in Swaziland which later have become churches were started because someone who was reached by the institutions was followed up and he/she invited the church to come and start a work in their area. In some instances, these people themselves took the lead in starting a congregation as they began to witness for Christ.
Institutional workers, including students, are used in visiting, teaching Sunday school, preaching or interpreting for a missionary at outstation/preaching points. Missionary workers in institutional work often provide the transport to these preaching points which can be up to 20 miles from the mission stations. The church at Manzini (Sharpe Memorial Church) has been blessed with the largest amount of institutional work nearby. By utilizing the resources of these institutions, that church has been able to daughter 15 organized churches in the past two decades. Currently, it is nurturing another seven waysides and extension works. It has more than 500 members with a thousand enrolled in Sunday school.
In a recent year the Swaziland Northern District had 595 "institutional workers" and 41 ordained pastors and 38 licensed ministers. These institutional workers have been a positive factor in Nazarene church growth in Swaziland. They are potentially capable of impacting church growth even more.
Principle Four: Churches grow as they concentrate upon receptive peoples.
People reached through the institutions come from diverse backgrounds. The Swazis are thirsty and hungry for truth and reality in their lives. Traditional beliefs in witchcraft, ancestral spirits and demons have failed to satisfy their cravings. Such beliefs are also losing face because of the encroachment of a modern scientific worldview. This all makes them receptive to the Gospel.
The large number of applications to enter our Nazarene schools each year is evidence that many want their children exposed to Christian influences. These are "winnable people,' as A.R. Tippett put it.
Nazarene school evangelist Grace Masilela is a converted witch doctor and former prophetess of the cultic Zionist movement. She is a powerful witness of how Christ broke the bonds of demons in her life. Her personal experience has been convincing to young people from similar backgrounds. Many go back home to tell the story of Christ to their relatives.
Indeed, people who are sick, unsettled, illiterate and seeking knowledge and craving for meaning and answers to the ultimate questions of life are receptive to the Gospel of Christ. Such are most of the Swazi people who come to seek services offered by Nazarene institutions. Those seeking services have even included refugees from Mozambique.
In a recent decade, Swaziland has had an Average Annual Growth Rate of 5.76% and a Decadal Growth Rate of 74%. By global church growth assessment standards, that is good growth. This growth pattern is more pronounced after 1982, possibly due in part to a leadership change that year.
I'm convinced that our institutions and the carefully selected Christian workers who staff them will continue to play an important part in Nazarene church growth in Swaziland. May God forbid that it be otherwise.
Howard Culbertson, Southern Nazarene University, 6729 NW 39th, Bethany, OK 73008 | Phone: 405-491-6693 - Fax: 405-491-6658
Copyright © 2000, 2001 - Last Updated: December 19, 2006 | URL: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/swazi.htm