Fruitful Practices in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Mixed-Methods Study
By Gene Daniels
Fruitful Practice Research has recently completed a second round of mixed methods research on church planting in the Muslim world. A large number of Asian and African church planters were intentionally included as participants this time, broadening the study population. This enabled the research team to more confidently 1) verify the Fruitful Practice statements from the first round of research, and 2) find additional Fruitful Practices not previously identified.
Analysis of the research, in response to member feedback, focuses on groups within the Network. This study is the first of a series of focused group analyses and specifically looks at workers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The data set included both expatriate and local church planters so findings are based on both the observations of outsiders (etic) and the intuitive knowledge of insiders (emic).
The SSA study produced four major findings:
1. Fruitful Practices Affirmed. 59 of the original 68 Fruitful Practices were affirmed by workers in the SSA region. This is important because it points toward the broad commonalities that church planters face across the Muslim world.
2. The Bridge of Islamic Thought Patterns. Three potential new Fruitful Practices were discovered, one of which may be particularly significant: COM9 “Fruitful Workers use Islamic terms and thought patterns as a bridge to sharing the biblical gospel.” This new Fruitful Practice adds a certain nuance to our thinking as it is not about using content from the Quran per se, rather it concerns the value of sharing the gospel using terms, symbols, and forms of thought that are familiar to peoples with an Islamic heritage.
3. Worker Boldness and Prayer. An unexpected and important finding was a connection between a worker’s boldness in witness and their practice of prayer. The data showed that Africans tend to be bolder in witness and tend to pray for their Muslim friends in their presence. Conversely, Western expatriates tend to be less bold and are more likely to pray in team settings or organize for prayer. Both are valid expressions of prayer, but we suggest the African preference for face-to-face prayer ministry produces a stronger witness in a Muslim context.
4. Embedded Worker Concept. The overarching finding of this study is what we have called the “Embedded worker,” a profile of the successful church planter among Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa. The anchor point of this image was the most widely noted Fruitful Practice among the qualitative interviews, RSO1 “Fruitful Workers communicate respect by behaving in culturally appropriate ways.” Around this are clustered several other FPs which together produce the picture of a church planter who lives in harmony with local culture and social norms to a significant degree. This in turn causes a perceived congruence between the terms and symbols used to carry the gospel and those in common use by the receptor community.
This regionally focused study offers important insights into the fruitful practices of those planting churches among Muslim peoples in sub-Saharan Africa. It also points to some of the differences between the practices of African church planters and their Western colleagues. All in all it contributes to our understanding of how God is working in one of the most hotly contested frontiers of Christian-Muslim interaction.
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