Every host was anxious to tell me of their experiences. The stories were all different and they were all the same. The children were delightful. And the children prayed for them and with them. Everyone had a powerful and moving experience interacting with the children. They were touched with their open lovingness and deep spirituality. They couldn’t believe pre-teens and teenagers could have such a dynamic relationship with God. It forced them to stop and reevaluated their own relationship with God and their own spiritual growth. One dear friend was brought to tears every time she mentioned the children.
My question (I always have questions.) is “Why?” Why is the Watoto Church producing young Christians with such appealing faith, joyous living, and spiritual depth? It is something that we in the North American church rarely see. Some of the difference has to do with our cultures. The Watoto church is located in Uganda. It is a country where, for the past 20 years, life has be difficult. There have been hardships brought on by civil war, an AIDS epidemic, poor medical care and a lost generation. More than half of the nation’s population is under the age of 20. Think about that for a moment.
While the church in North America is in a rapid decline, the church in Africa is seeing continued growth. Why? Again part of it is cultural. The church of Jesus Christ has never fared well in places where life is easy. Human nature tells us that we humans rarely reach out and embrace God without the motivation of need. When our basic needs are met and we become comfortable, we tend to trust more in ourselves and less in God. God becomes optional. These children, all orphans, have come from great need. They have joyfully embraced God as a father who loves and cares for them. They have been rescued from lives of misery that were certain to end in an early death. They now have the warmth of a loving family, good food, a great education and the promise of being prepared to make a difference in their country. The motto of the Watoto Children’s ministry is “Rescue, Raise, Rebuild.” As odd as it sounds, these children have the advantage of being disadvantaged.
After talking to many of the children and adult leaders on tour with the choir and doing some research, it is clear why the Watoto Church is such a dynamic church and has such a huge and powerfully life changing ministry. We can find many commonalities between what they are doing and what growing churches in America are doing. Let’s look at those things.
Many if not all failing churches have several things in common. Some of the things most dying churches have in common are:
- Worship services that lack energy and are unengaging
- Laypeople are not engaged in ministry
- Staff do most of the ministry and that is expected
- 90% of all church activity happens on Sunday morning
- The church does very little community outreach
- Evangelism is non existent
- Most teaching in the church tends to be intellectual and not practical
- Very few church members participate in small groups
- Serving on a committee is considered doing ministry
- Most time at board meetings is spent discussing finances and not the church’s mission
And many, if not all, growing, healthy churches have things in common. These are the same things I have found to be true for the Watoto Church.
- Worship is energetic and engaging
- Most of the ministry in the church done by laypeople
- Staff is there to train and direct the laity in doing ministry
- Christianity is not a once a week happening but is, instead, seen and practiced as a lifestyle
- The local church is having a positive impact on the local community
- The teachings of Scripture are taken seriously
- All teaching that is done is Biblical and practical
- A vast majority of church members are deeply involved in healthy small groups. (The Watoto Church has 2500 active small groups and 25,000 members. The groups are the heart of the church.)
- Pray is a habit and is shared freely
- It is a joy to share one’s faith story
- The governing body is small and is focused on ministry
One of my elders, who hosted some of the Watoto children said, “We questioned the adult leader we had in our home about their church and how they did things. We were amazed. They are doing the same things you are helping us learn how to do.” I was pleased to hear that but, more importantly, some of my leaders were able to see the kind of people produced through of being a part of a healthy, growing church that is producing spiritually maturing Christians and what those people look and act like. They were tantalized and hopefully provoked to seek all that God has for them.
We took a nice offering for the children. But we received much more than we gave. God is good.
Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.