A description be it fair or not of the African Evangelical Christian Church is that the Church is like a lake that is a mile wide but an inch deep. The lake is a mile wide because a large majority of Africans would claim Christianity as their religion. 80% of Kenya claims to be Christian (remarkable considering at the turn of the previous century that percentage was less than 2%). There are Christian churches of most all types (gospel churches, pentecostal, reformed, bible churches, liturgical, etc.). Even the smallest villages usually have a Christian church and a lay pastor.
The accusation that the African church is an inch deep points I think to a perceived shallowness of theology, lack of discipleship, and marginal commitment of faith. But is this a fair assessment of the African Church? And who is to blame? If missionaries largely planted the churches in Kenya...is it the fault of their church planting strategies, their portrayed message (Western Theme), their discipleship, their taught theology? Yet missionaries in the early 1900’s literally risked their life to come to Africa..some were told to bring their coffins along (statistics showed that 1 in 3 did not return). It is through their courage via God’s grace that any form of Christianity caught on and the African church grew.
Some might say that the Gospel message in an African context somehow simply got lost. Some would criticize the church of legalism and moralism as issues of drinking, adultery, church attendance, and tithing are over consuming. Others might criticize the church of reductionist theology..your in, your out... saved, unsaved...with little interest in discipleship, caring for the poor, or evidence of fruits of belief.
The African Church just like the Church in the West I believe needs to acknowledge that the Lake is very very deep. We often linger near the shore wading in the shallow end without daring to go beyond where we can no longer touch. Look at Paul’s writings to Thessalonica with a strong emphasis of being ‘chosen’ by God:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you (1 thess. 1:4)
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (2 Thess. 2:13)
as compared to the Gospel of John’s emphasis on ‘belief’.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:40).
This relationship of election and belief along with the Trinity, the Incarnation, Original Sin, the Cross are all incredibly challenging concepts to grasp and assimilate. But we must seek to do this through study, fellowship, education, podcasts, communication, prayer, etc. Indeed, today in a perhaps post-modern culture there is more urgency for all of God’s church to become a mile wide AND a MILE deep.