Under second generation’s influence, African immigrant churches turn to social action while keeping traditional identity

While African immigrant churches continue to expand in the West, second- and third-generation members are seeking to maintain African traditions while reaching out to the wider society with evangelism and social action, write Allison Norton and Caleb Opoku Nyanni in the International Bulletin of Mission Research (47:2). African immigrants who planted churches in the West in the early 2000s generally replicated practices and theology from their motherland in Africa, even though they were strongly driven to engage in what has been called “reverse mission.” The belief that these churches had a God-given task to evangelize secular Europe and the West was deeply ingrained in their establishment, especially in such denominations as the Nigerian Redeemed Christian Church of God and the Ghana-based Church of Pentecost. But for all their vitality, these churches have not drawn many non-Africans over the years.

The second-generation members are now reaching young adulthood and are challenging some of the immigrant generation’s approaches. They seek alternatives to the evangelism strategies of the first generations, marked by open-air evangelism, tract distribution, and engaging in “spiritual warfare,” and have “embraced…serving the poor and providing other daily life accessories to the needy and unchurched in the community.” Second-generation believers in the Netherlands, for instance, embarked on carnival-style music evangelism in 2022, and they use Twitter and Instagram as evangelistic tools. The second generation tends to look back to an earlier Pentecostal emphasis on the importance of ministering to people experiencing economic problems, the researchers add. In their case study of Church of Pentecost (CoP) members in the UK and U.S., Norton and Nyanni found a pattern of second-generation members crossing between Western and African traditions and cultures.

Source: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

These younger members valued the opportunity to worship in a community of peers who understood the realities of living as Africans and Ghanaians, but at the same time they “articulated a desire to expand the boundaries of belonging in the CoP in their loyalties…Navigating between universalistic and particularistic identities within the church was often a source of tension for the next generation, as they were sometimes frustrated at the seeming inability of the church to transcend culture or race in order to fulfill evangelistic visions of a multiracial, universal Christian community,” Norton and Nyanni write. The second-generation interviewees stressed creating spaces of belonging that extended beyond their ethnic group, with several members saying that they had built collaborative relationships with African-American and other black Christians on their university campuses and communities. The second generation has established Pentecostal International Worship Centers as a way to reach out to urban professionals, academics, and non-Ghanaians. These niche congregations built across North America have sought new areas of engagement in their communities, including “serving as food pantry sites, providing educational and health resources within their neighborhoods, and in some cases, partnering with local government resources to sustain their community engagement.”

(International Bulletin of Mission Research, https://journals.sagepub.com/home/IBM)