Formal churches lose their flocks

2012-04-07 16:11

Traditional Christian churches are losing their flocks, while their indigenous and charismatic counterparts are cashing in on their losses.

A new report, AMPS 2011, released by the South African Audience Research Foundation last month, paints a bleak picture of the future of mainline churches including Methodists, Catholics and Anglicans and their dwindling congregations.

It shows that indigenous churches like the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) and iBandla lamaNazaretha, better known as Shembe, increased their membership by more than 25% in the past 10 years.

The ZCC in particular has showed tremendous growth in the past decade. Its membership increased by a whopping 2.4 million between 2001 and 2011.

The census report in 2001 showed that about 11.1% of the country’s population were ZCC members. Last month’s AMPS report revealed that membership had jumped to 15.2%.

The South African Council of Churches, which represents mainline Christian churches, said it was not surprised by the growth of indigenous Christian churches as the culture of religious belief has changed over the years.

“In today’s world Christians seem to prefer believing in what they can see and touch,” said the council’s ­general secretary, Reverend Mautji Pataki.

“They are more attracted to churches that preach a physical ­healing gospel like the ZCC, or those that preach prosperity theology like Pentecostal churches,” he said.

The Catholics agreed. Father Chris Townsend, spokesperson for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said: “There is no doubt that an increasing number of people are joining ­charismatic churches rather than ­traditional ones.”

However, he said, “what is unclear is whether the growth is boosted by members who leave our churches.”

Townsend admitted that Catholic churches were affected by this shift but said, “it would be difficult to ­define the extent as regions differ.”

Both Pataki and Townsend agreed that even though more Christians were shifting towards “the seeing is believing” gospel, traditional churches would not follow the same route to attract more congregants.

While Christianity remains the most popular religion in South Africa, with four in every five people reporting to be believers in Jesus Christ, other religions like Islam are enjoying an upsurge in popularity.

The percentage of Muslims in South Africa appears to have increased from 1.5% to 1.9% in the past 10 years.

The numbers of Hindus has remained constant from 1.2% in 2001 to 1.2% in 2011.

The Jewish population appears to have declined significantly from 0.2% in 2001. Despite numerous ­requests for an interview, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein was unavailable.

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