Ghana’s Presbyterian churches today are expressing their spirituality in ways that are more African in origin and expression, say Ghanaian church representatives.
There is a growing acceptance of the African worldview. At the same time they are addressing issues related to spirits, witchcraft and ancestor worship in the light of the Christian gospel.
The shift comes at a time when membership growth in churches established by European missionaries in the 19th century does not match the rapid expansion in Pentecostal and other independent churches in the country.
“We have been too slow to recognize Ghanaians are different from the missionaries who came from Switzerland and Germany,” says Seth Agidi of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana (EPCG). “We were slow to open up to the worldview of our people. The church kept insisting on the worldview of missionaries.”
Agidi, who is responsible for inter-church relations for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana (EPCG) made his comments in a May 13 presentation to the Executive Committee of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) at its meeting here.
The director for church life and nurture for the Presbyterian Church in Ghana (PCG), Amfo-Akonnor, shared in the presentation designed to provide information about WCRC’s two Ghanaian member churches for the 30-person executive committee.
“African spiritualists believe in another world, just like Christians,” Amfo-Akonnor told the group. “Christians can believe there are witches but that Jesus has conquered them.”
“The traditional African worldview is still there but Jesus becomes part of that worldview and transforms it,” PCG’s inter-church relations officer, Solomon Sule Saa, explained.
Discussion with the Ghanaian church representatives included questions about the challenges that both denominations face in reaching out to new members. Statistics presented by Amfo-Akonnor compare the rate of growth in PCG and EPCG congregations in contrast to that of Pentecostal churches.
Between 1991 and 2007, the number of PCG congregations increased from 164 to 214. The EPCG saw its number grow from 136 to 301. In the same period, the number of Pentecostal congregations grew from 87 to 1,088.
In response to questions about the reason for the rapid growth in Pentecostal membership, Agidi said that people have been leaving “mainline churches” such as the EPCG and PCG in part due to the Pentecostalism’s spirituality. The Ghanaian minister noted too that when Pentecostalists first appeared in the country 60 years ago, they were quick to integrate drums, dancing and local music into their services.
In contrast, it was the 1970s before the EPCG allowed drums to be included in Sunday worship services.
Agidi acknowledged that another reason Presbyterians have been joining Pentecostal congregations is the healing ceremonies they offer for people troubled by evil spirits. In response, EPCG now runs its own “deliverance and healing” centers that double as spiritual retreat centers.
Today, church growth focuses on developing new congregations in the country’s northern region which has the lowest percentage of Christians in Ghana. Mainline church growth has stalled, creating what the PCG terms an “evangelism emergency.” But, in order to respond to the emergency, money is needed for church buildings, for housing and for ministers’ salaries, says Amfo-Akonnor.
In a bold and innovative move to increase church membership, EPCG has put a program in place for candidates for ordained ministry. Before being ordained, Agidi says, a would-be minister must first create two new congregations.
The 12-day WCRC executive committee meeting wrapped up on May 17.