Diaspora churches are moving forward God’s purposes
By Peter Oyugi
Writing from the UK, I can observe a steady increase in the number of African diaspora churches, or churches of Africans who have been scattered far from their homelands. I believe that God is using migration to allow the body of Christ to be present in countries where secularism and nominalism have led to a decline in church attendance.
African diaspora churches have diverse beginnings. Some have been intentionally planted, as part of the missionary effort of churches back in the continent. Others result from African diaspora peoples seeking to create worship experiences mirroring what they were used to in Africa.
Although there are genuine concerns about the theological orthodoxy of some African diaspora churches, many African believers have a deep faith and passion for God and his Word. They are happy to share their faith in Christ with those they meet. This is an important asset when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities to share the gospel. Being communal and people-oriented, Africans are keen to enquire about the well-being of their neighbours, pray for those in need around them and introduce them to the gospel of Christ.
Many African diaspora churches have an influence on churches back on the continent as well, especially where some spiritual oversight is provided by church leaders in Africa. These leaders visit the churches regularly, which exposes them to some of the challenges of living in the West. In addition, most diaspora Christians send financial support to their families back home, which helps to fund the ongoing work of the Church in Africa.
Diaspora churches are often seen as an answer to prayer for reversing the spiritual decay occurring in the West. However, sometimes such churches are heavily focused on looking after their own members. Like many typical churches, they become preoccupied with sustaining the life of a local congregation – with its myriad concerns about pastoral issues, financial stability, and balancing life-work demands.
They can receive help in remaining missional by sending their leaders to consultations where mission needs and priorities are discussed and explained, and where mutual accountability is enhanced. There is need for a renewed understanding of the purpose and mandate of the local church to participate in God’s mission, missio dei.
However, in many diaspora churches, global missions is seen as an activity for Westerners in particular – an assumption often learned in the churches from which they came. Although there is increased recognition in the global Church that mission is now “from everywhere to anywhere”, church leaders need to cast the vision for global mission, nurture believers in radical discipleship, and educate church members about their Great Commission responsibilities. Vision, discipleship and education all need to work together to ensure that diaspora churches live out their biblical mandate to participate in the Great Commission.
My vision for diaspora churches in the UK is to see them committed anew to being people of the Word and Spirit. I pray that they would hear what the Spirit is saying to them. They are surrounded by fellow diaspora peoples coming from places where they had no access to the gospel. Many of these newcomers are now searching for the truth because they have greater freedom to seek it. Meanwhile, many in the host culture live in ignorance of biblical truths and do not see the relevance of Christianity to their lives. They, too, need the gospel that these diaspora churches can proclaim.
A godly influence in such a maze of worldviews, cultures and opinions can only be achieved through a prayerful engagement with the Bible as God’s complete revelation of Himself to humankind. Believers in diaspora churches need to be equipped to see their role as missionaries where God has placed them. In this way, they may be salt and light, and a witness of the resurrected Christ, who is both Saviour and Lord. This requires that they integrate into their new environment, pray for the peace of their localities, and indeed become people of peace where God has placed them. This is not easy in a political climate where immigrants are viewed negatively. Nonetheless, God is accustomed to using the weak things of this world to make his power known in reconciling rebellious humanity back to Himself through Christ. He can and will use his scattered Church to accomplish his purpose!
Originally from Kenya, Peter Oyugi leads diaspora ministry in the UK for Africa Inland Mission (AIM), focusing on the least-reached. In this role he works alongside UK churches to establish church-based outreach teams that will equip church members to engage cross-culturally with the world at their doorstep. Previously Peter led a church in London and was a student worker in Kenya. He is married to Cecilia, and they have two teenage daughters.