Church growth stretches Ethiopian resources

February 26, 2019 | Web First
Tim Huber | Mennonite World Review
Students from Meserete Kristos College’s Entertainment Art group lead worship music at a November 2018 outreach event. Over two days, they shared the gospel with 1,080 people, 117 of whom received Christ. (Henok Tamirat)

Challenges accompany the joys of growth as tens of thousands of people new to Ethiopia’s Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) swell the denomination.

Now with more than 600,000 participants, the world’s largest Anabaptist conference struggles to train enough pastors, find adequate meeting spaces, and keep vehicles maintained for its teachers, who travel to distant outposts on rough roads.

According to its latest statistics, MKC added about 88,000 people to its faith community in the past two years, growing from 295,607 baptized members in 2016 to 344,829 in September 2018. Including 58,158 people preparing to be baptized and 212,442 children, MKC counts 615,429 people in its churches, up from 527,851 two years earlier.

Growth is taking place in every aspect of MKC’s evangelism-centric ethos. The number of pastors has nearly doubled in two years, from 160 to 298, or roughly one for every 2,065 adults and children. “Gospel ministers,” who are full-time but not yet ordained, grew from 536 in 2016 to 799.

Worship spaces present one of the biggest challenges. Land is owned by the government and difficult to acquire, driving up the price of properties.

In spite of this, the number of local churches—defined as at least 50 baptized members, three able leaders, one full-time minister, an owned or rented place of worship and financially self-supporting congregation—grew from 961 to 1,067. Infant churches, known as “planting centres,” grew from 1,016 to 1,110.

“As long as we do evangelism, we will have more planting centres,” said MKC president Tewo­dros Beyene by email. “We encourage every member to be an evangelist.”

Student evangelism

While passion for sharing the gospel is widely shared, trained and qualified leaders must be continually added. Meserete Kristos College has 509 students enrolled in leadership and ministry programs at a main campus in Debre Zeit and extension campuses in Nazareth and Addis, along with distance education programs.

MK College student council president Feyera Hirko recounted in the December 2018 college newsletter how the dean and a group of students visited the Tsega congregation in Nazareth-Adama for two days of preaching.

On Nov. 3, the students shared about Christ with 1,080 people, 117 of whom confessed and received Jesus. Hirko said one woman had been an unbelieving spouse of a pastor “who notoriously challenged her husband.” A Muslim man was on the verge of committing suicide before receiving a message in a dream to not do so.

While economic growth is happening in Ethiopia as government reforms fall into place, the church’s growth has outpaced it, putting a strain on resources of both the churches and the college.

More than 1,600 graduates have come out of the college to serve among the church’s pastors, evangelists, teachers, gospel ministers and missionaries, but this group does not represent even half of the need for trained leadership.

Teaching teachers

In addition to the college providing formal education to equip full-time ministers, the denomination offers regular teaching programs on spiritual formation, leadership and other matters for lay and other full-time ministers. A separate “key teachers” program trains people from churches to be prepared to teach in other churches. Those teachers have increased from 126 to 184.

But rapid growth presents challenges even here. Beyene said that when there were only a few MKC regions, one or two “key teachers” programs could be held in every region.

“Now we have 39 regions, and to go to some regions it takes us two days to drive on terribly damaged roads,” he said. “Even if we have trainers, we don’t have many vehicles, and they are in poor condition after serving almost two decades on gravel roads.”

Reinforcing denominational links as MKC grows will help the church maintain its identity, no matter the conditions of Ethiopia’s physical byways.

Beyene said mainline evangelical churches represent about 20 percent of Ethiopia’s population, and they have similar worship and biblical understandings to MKC’s. “But we keep the teaching of peace theology, and the church is kind of charismatic in its nature,” he said. “Though our background is Anabaptist/Mennonite, most of our members do not know these names—but the Anabaptist teachings are there.

“The name Meserete Kristos [meaning church founded on Christ, derived from I Corinthians 3:11, one of Menno Simon’s key verses] helps our evangelistic strategy that it is a local church, not dependent on a foreign church.”

Abridged from a longer Mennonite World Review article, Jan. 21, page 1. Reprinted with permission.

For more on the Meserete Kristos Church, see:
'We really need each other a lot'
Education equips Ethiopian leader to serve
Ethiopian Meserete Kristos Church continues to grow

Students from Meserete Kristos College’s Entertainment Art group lead worship music at a November 2018 outreach event. Over two days, they shared the gospel with 1,080 people, 117 of whom received Christ. (Henok Tamirat)

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