Worship trends in SA shifting like sand

2011-04-23 17:50

Far from remaining static, church membership and attendance across South Africa are shifting.

Old institutional churches are rapidly losing ground to independent and charismatic churches. Rural congregations are decreasing in some areas while multiracial congregations are on the rise.

And while some churches are seeing a steady growth in membership, others are having to find new ways to attract new members.

Professor Kobus Schoeman, a leader in the Dutch Reformed Church, says: “While church membership in the southern African region has remained stable at 1.3 million, attendance has declined. The extent of this, however, has not yet been quantified.”

Schoeman attributes this decline to factors such as emigration and internal migration.

Vuyani Nyobole, general secretary of the Methodist Church of South Africa, reports similar trends.

He says while membership has remained stable or has even increased, “there is a noticeable decrease in attendance in some suburban churches and in rural towns”.

He attributes this to “shifting demographics and attraction to other churches because of worship style”.

According to Professor Jurgen Hendriks of Stellenbosch University, the decline in traditional western-style churches in South Africa mirrors a global trend.

Firstly, he says, “the heartland of Christianity is shifting south, which means that Christian churches in western civilisation are declining, while in the rest of the world – especially in developing countries or in countries like China and Iran, where persecution is rife, they are growing remarkably.”

The Shembe church, which blends western and African traditions, has a membership of around four million and is stable in popularity.

“It is a completely different set-up to the older institutional churches. People live closer to one another in communities, the churches are much smaller and people take care of one another as a lifestyle. It is much more neighbour-to-neighbour than organised committees,” says Hendriks.

According to Zion Christian Church (ZCC) member and Gauteng-based nurse Agnes Marope, the popularity of the ZCC is steeped in traditional beliefs that are associated with faith healing.

“People flock to the ZCC because there is a belief that when you drink the holy coffee there you will be healed,” she says.

“And some go so far as to believe that it can cure HIV.”

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