Church Growth Study
Of the Church of Christ among the Aja
By Richard Chowning
For Period Ending January 21, 2001
Each year the team has set goals and placed them before the Lord. The goals for 2000 seemed extremely ambitious. But, we knew that the Lord had brought great growth in His church among the Aja in the past. There was no reason to believe that the expansion would not continue. As the months rolled by in 2000, we knew many were coming to the Lord, but the final tally surprised us all.
By January 21, 2001 there were 407 more faithful members than the previous year. There are now 784 compared to 377 the year before. That is a 107.9% increase.
There were 491 baptisms in the year 2000. That is 62% more than the previous twelve months.
Fifteen new congregations were planted in 2000, bringing the total to thirty-one congregations. That is a 93.7% increase.
In 2000, 491 were baptized. Even though sixty percent of those baptisms took place in the fifteen new congregations, the prior, existing congregations' membership grew by a healthy 21.49%. The majority (58.4%) of the Christians are members of congregations that are at least a year old.
Not only are more congregations being planted each year, the congregations are becoming larger. In 1999 the largest congregation had 43 members. There are now seven congregations with 43 or more members. Ten congregations have more than 30 members, compared to six and two in 1999 and 1998 respectively. The average size of the congregations has grown slightly over the past three years (22; 24; 25).
Most of the larger congregations (8 of the 10 with more than thirty members) are in the northern areas of Aja. All of the congregations in the northern areas that were planted prior to 2000 have 25 or more members. Eight of the fifteen new congregations were planted in these areas. The shear momentum of growth contributes to the spiritual energy and community identity. Cluster meetings continue to play a major role. Members from these eight congregations, along with eight smaller ones, meet together each month for worship at one of the congregations. The inspiration of hundreds of believers meeting together has been a driving force for the strength. Leaders from these churches have also begun to meet at least once each month.
Congregations and Preaching Points
Area Congregation Name
(* denotes a new congregation)
Aja evangelists planted three of the new congregations (Kidji; Kpeta; Egahoue).
Reversion is always a concern, especially during a rapidly growing movement. Are people truly being converted? Are they remaining faithful? Are they mixing their traditional religious beliefs with the values and beliefs of the Kingdom of God? These are serious questions. However, the rapid growth that the church among the Aja is enjoying is not resulting in a high rate of reversion. For the past two years, the reversion rate has been 20 and 21 percent respectively. The average in Africa is around 30 percent. It is higher in the United States and Europe.
Despite a comparatively low reversion rate for the entire movement, five Aja congregations are struggling with a high rate of reversion (Dekpo 93%, Djoumahou 62.9%, Koyohoue 55.6%, Takpaciome 46%, and Avedjin 43.8%). Djoumahou and Dekpo showed steep declines in 1999 and that trend continues. Dekpo, in fact, is a defunct congregation, but is making some effort to revive itself. The Kaiteme congregation was struggling last year and has made a turn around. This year, some Aja evangelists need to pray and plan to assist these weak congregations.
The overall low reversion rate should not foster complacency. During the maturation process of each congregation, specific discipleship lessons and practical shepherding advice is given. During the collection of church growth data each year, an attempt is made to determine why someone reverted. Non-Christian parents or husbands have made it difficult or, in some cases, even forbidden young people or women to remain faithful. Others have fallen because they feel someone in the local congregation has offended them. The church needs to deal with these issues.
Some members have just moved away. Azove and Lome are the most common new residences. Lome is too far away for much to be done about those who find work there. More of an effort can be made to inform the churches of the existence and location of congregations of the Churches of Christ in Lome. Some Aja Christians are attempting to establish a congregation in Azove.
Other Vital Signs
One of the team principles is that we do all of our teaching in the language of the Aja people. All of the congregations use only their language in all of their meetings and services. Thus, the team has spent many hours translating scriptures into the Aja. There are now reliable translations of Mark, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, 1,2, &3 John and 2 Peter being distributed in the churches.
The percentage of Christians who can read Aja has remained consistent over the past two years (27.9% in 1999 and 28% in 2000). Every congregation, except Dodohoue (doh-DOH-hwey), has at least one member who can read Aja. Out of a desire to read God's Word in their own language, some congregations have begun their own literacy programs. In the coming year, more innovative ways of using the translated scriptures need to be explored and implemented.
The low literacy rate coupled with the lack of a Bible in the Aja language makes it difficult for the Christians to acquire broad, based Biblical knowledge.
Two years ago there was a concern that too few women were becoming Christians. At that time only thirty percent of the members were female. A healthy change has taken place over the past two years (39% and 41.5% in 1999 and 2000 respectively).
From the inception of this mission, converts have predominantly come from the Aja Tradional Religion. More than ninety-two percent of the membership come from unchurched backgrounds. That reflects the team's goals in that regard. It also shows that the Aja are understanding and are being impacted by the manner in which the Gospel is being presented to them.