Mission to the Aja, Benin
Church Growth Study for 2001
by Richard Chowning
April 26, 2002
Church of Christ among the Aja of Benin
The state of the church through January 22, 2002
The first baptism in Churches of Christ among the Aja took place on May 10th, 1998. Just over three and a half years later there are now 45 congregations with a total of 945 active members.
There was substantial growth in 2001. The number of congregations increased by 45% over the previous year to forty-five and the number of active members grew by 21% to 945. However, both categories fell considerably short of the team's goals for the year (55 congregations and 1384 active members).
Several factors most likely contributed slower growth in 2001:
• It was an election year. Many of the members were directly involved in political meetings and the election process itself.
• Two missionary families (Vaughns and Chownings) were on furlough part of the year.
• Team problems, culminating in the Crowsons leaving, and the Vaughns and Jim Kennell deciding not to work as a team, no doubt had an adverse effect on the movement.
The number of congregations being planted has increased each year. Two years ago the team set a long-range goal of planting one hundred congregations by the end of 2003. That is just under two years from now.
Churches planted by Aja
The most encouraging news of 2001 is that of the sixteen new congregations planted, Aja evangelists, without the presence of missionaries, planted at least ten of them. That is a huge leap forward from the three that they planted the previous year.
The forty-five congregations are located in four socio-geographical areas of the Aja homeland. Congregations and leaders within each area have a closer affinity to each other than with the other congregations in the movement. For the most part, congregations in each area were planted by evangelists who reside in that area. To some extent, specific missionaries worked in each area. The areas are also distinguished form each other by some subtle cultural and linguistic differences.
The southern area is the driest and least agriculturally viable area of Aja. This has forced many of it inhabitants to seek income from trading, hunting, and the manufacturing of 'Sodabi', the Beninois version of white lightning.
The southern area only produced two new congregations during the year and the active membership in the area increased by only nine people. One of the new congregations, Deve, is made up mostly of transfers from the near-by Hunba (HOON-bah) congregation. The average congregational membership is fourteen, the lowest of any of the four areas. This area also had the lowest growth rate, a mere 9.5 percent.
It is difficult to attribute the lack of growth in the southern area to any specific variable. One reason might be that the majority of the congregations have been planted along the major road that runs the length of the area, from Aplahoue (ah-PLAH-hwey) to Lokossa. This road has been accessible to all types of traffic for at least twenty years. Almost every medium to large village along the road already has one or more Protestant congregations.
|Congregation ||Active Members '01 ||Active Members '00 |
|Hungeme ||14 ||new |
|Deve ||10 ||new |
|Dodohoue ||13 ||8 |
|Dadahoue || 7 ||12 |
|Djoumahou ||15 ||13 |
|Avedjin ||16 ||18 |
|Kindji || 8 ||9 |
|Ainahoue ||25 ||24 |
|Hunba || 5 ||8 |
|8 congregations || 113 ||92 |
No major roads traverse the southeastern area. The fertile soil in the area and its close proximity to Azove (ah-zoh-vay) would seem to make it one of the more economically stable areas. The high-density population seems to work against that potential.
|Congregation ||Active Members ||Active Members '00 |
|Kpekpehoue || 8 ||new |
|Holou-Loko ||27 ||new |
|Kadahoue ||41 ||47 |
|Kanvihoue ||16 ||new |
|Edahoue-Akplohoue || 4 ||new |
|Mosenhoue ||17 ||20 |
|Kansuhoue ||35 ||37 |
|Yivihoue || 9 ||new |
|Mijikohoue || 3 ||15 |
|Fanyinouhoue ||19 ||16 |
|Bituhoue ||15 ||new |
|Dahouehoue || 6 ||new |
|12 congregations || 200 ||135 |
The central area is the most economically and educationally advanced of all of the areas. Its area is the smallest of the four areas. The growth in this area is a bit deceptive. It does not take into account that the Dekpo (DECK-po) congregation went defunct in 2001.
|Congregation ||Active Members ||Active Members '00 |
|Koyohoue ||18 ||16 |
|Aflantan ||14 ||13 |
|Tchatehoue ||24 ||new |
|Azove ||15 ||new |
|Kaiteme ||28 ||25 |
|5 congregations || 99 ||54 |
The northern area is the poorest and least educated of all of the areas. It is also the largest. Tado, the village of origin for all Aja, is just across the Togo boarder from this area. The people in this area have been firmly entrenched in their traditional, animistic religion.
Over the past three years this area has proved to be the most receptive of them all. Evangelists and leaders in this area have set the models for church planting and organization that the other areas are beginning to emulate. Average congregation size 29.6, the largest of any of the areas.
|Congregation ||Active Members ||Active Members '00 |
|Numovihoue ||70 ||57 |
|Takpaciome ||14 ||27 |
|Eglime ||32 ||49 |
|Badjame ||36 ||50 |
|Keletume ||47 ||33 |
|Gbakonou ||40 ||43 |
|Agbanate ||35 ||44 |
|Egahoue ||28 ||26 |
|Kidji ||32 ||15 |
|Sinlita ||53 ||47 |
|Dandjihoue ||24 ||31 |
|Kpeta ||22 ||20 |
|Dadohwi ||19 ||25 |
|Kode ||22 ||new |
|Suime || 8 ||new |
|Chuvu ||16 ||new |
|Nyanginihoue ||21 ||new |
|Hevi ||14 ||new |
|18 congregations ||533 ||467 |
Other Vital Signs
The percentage of women in the movement continues to grow, but still lags behind the number of men. They now make up 44% of the active membership. That is twelve percent more than three years ago.
A glance at the chart below reveals that the membership of the Churches of Christ is rather young. However, bear in mind that more than fifty percent of the people of Benin are under fifteen years of age and the life expectancy for men and women is just under fifty years. The percentage of members over thirty years of age has increased each year. We expect that trend to continue.
The reversion rate climbed to the significant thirty percent level in 2001. That is right at the norm in Africa. A large portion of the reversions (19%) comes from the Wakpe and Dekpo (DECK-po) congregations that have become defunct.
We have been involved in the translation of scripture ever since we attained a moderate level of fluency in the Aja language. Language helpers who initially coached us through acquiring language skills have transitioned into the role coworkers in translating and editing. Most missionaries have been working along side these native Aja speakers.
Translation of the New Testament scriptures is almost complete. Only 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Jude, Philemon, and Revelation remain untranslated. The translations of various New Testament books differ somewhat in style and refinement as a result of each participant missionary and language helper working independent of the others. Once the remaining books are translated, all of the New Testament translations should be edited and revised to bring them into conformity with each other. That process could begin in early 2003. Then the New Testament scriptures can be made available in a single volume.
Only three Old Testament books have been translated (Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua). Not every scripture was translated in each book. We are translating a list of passages recommended by the United Bible Society for each Old Testament book. The set of selected passages for each book are "representative of that book as a whole."
Missionary Attrition and Division
The team working among the Aja was initially composed of five families and one single. The Baileys returned to the States permanently in 2000. The Crowsons have moved to Togo and the Vaughns and Jim Kennell have decided not to work as part of a team from here on out.
The sharp decrease in the number of missionaries presents formidable challenges to sustained church growth. The mission to the Aja is the Lord's mission. The current situation has certainly resulted in a de-emphasis on the missionary team. The Hicks and Chownings must rethink how they work among the Aja churches. A larger share of the planning, and execution of the plan, will fall on the Aja leaders and the missionary families still working with them. The leaders meetings and evangelists training sessions could be the forum for such planning.
Aja leaders are surely the vessel through which the Lord will do the bulk of His work. The missionary team knew that long before we arrived on the field. One of our major objectives affirms that understanding:
This movement will be led by Aja Christians who are empowered to plant and mature churches without foreign influence.
Toward that end, in September 2001 monthly evangelist training sessions were begun. The missionaries chose thirteen men who they felt had demonstrated that they had the gift of evangelism. At the outset, each evangelist chose two or more apprentices whom they would train while planting new congregations. Eleven men have continued with the program for the past seven months. They have planted seven new congregations in that time. These men are not the only ones planting churches. However, they are having a major impact on the growth of the movement.
These evangelists come from eight congregations. They also attend one of the by-weekly leadership meetings taking place in the northern, southern and southeastern areas. Leaders in the northern region initiated these meetings almost two years ago. One or two representatives from each congregation meet to discuss problems and concerns of the existing congregations and pray and formulate remedies. Several weak congregations have been strengthened or revived by actions taken by these groups of leaders.
The leaders are beginning to direct the activities of the missionaries as well. These meetings could gradually replace the functions of the missionary team meetings of the past. The results of the evangelistic and pastoral efforts of these two groups signify significant progress toward our leadership goal.
Momentum of the Movement
The mission of the Churches of Christ among the Aja is less than five years old. Even though leadership training is paying some major spiritual dividends, the bulk of the energy of the church among the Aja should continue to be directed toward evangelism and church planting. The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board has recently recognized that church planting had been derailed from its prime position in their work. They are attempting to put it back on track. David Garrison, Associate Vice President for Strategy Coordination and Mobilization, clearly stated the rationale of church planting primacy when he wrote,
A Church Planting Movement is a rapid and exponential increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group.So why is a Church Planting Movement so special? Because it seems to hold forth the greatest potential for the largest number of lost individuals glorifying God by coming into new life in Christ and entering the community of faith.
As the missionaries and church leaders of the Churches of Christ among the Aja re-evaluate their future efforts they will do well to not debunk church planting and evangelism from the prime position in which the Lord put it.
Growing Openness and Opportunity
The current forty-five congregations cover a massive area compared to the seven congregations, which made up the movement just three years ago. However, hundreds of Aja villages are still without a congregation of born again believers. A week does not pass without each of the missionaries and Aja evangelists receiving requests to begin preaching in a new village. Most of those requests come from relatives or friends of Christians in the forty-five existing congregations. The Lordship of Christ and the new life exhibited by the church are attracting more attention than ever before. The opportunity for future growth is immense. Pray with us that the Lord of the harvest will send reapers.
 Bible Translator, Vol. 25 No. 2, United Bible Society.
 Church Planting Movements, David Garrison, Office of Overseas Operations International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1999.