Quakers fall in the West and rise in Kenya

Following a pattern similar to many other older religious groups, the Society of Friends has been losing members in the United Kingdom and the United States (around 25 percent between 1972 and 2002). But the movement is growing in Kenya, reports Nathan Siegel in Roads & Kingdoms (May). The shift to the Global South in Quakerism mirrors what is happening across Christian denominations. Quakerism reached Kenya as early as 1902. In 2002, a third of the 300,000 Quakers around the world were reported to live in Kenya. According to more recent statistical data (2012), there are now up to 377,000 Quakers worldwide, and this development is due to a large extent to Kenyan Quakers, now reaching 146,000. In the United States, by contrast, Friends have decreased from 86,837 in 2007 to 76,360 in 2012. World Quaker distribution compiled by the Quaker Information Centre indicates that 52 percent reside in Africa, 20 percent in North America, 15 percent in Caribbean and Latin America, 7 percent in Europe and the Middle East, and 6 percent in the Asia-West Pacific area.

The growth of Kenyan Quakerism is due to “evangelism, new churches and services that appeal to a younger, more mainstream Christian crowd,” Siegel writes. This innovation even includes radio and street evangelism. The article contrasts the silent, “unprogrammed” Quaker meeting for worship—attended by only a handful of foreigners at the Friends International Centre in Nairobi—with the packed Sunday services including choirs, bands, and praise and worship of the local “noisy Quakers.” Siegel mentions tensions between Western and African Quakers, including on the typical issues such as same-sex marriage. While this dispute may lead Kenyan Quakers to rethink their ties to the West, they are still dependent on their Western partners for the funding of a number of programs, and observers do not think that they will cut these ties entirely. But they will continue to develop and affirm their own style of Quakerism.

(Roads & Kingdom, http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2016/the-future-of-quakerism-belongs-to-kenya/ Quaker Information Centre, http://www.quakerinfo.org/resources/statistics)