New Community Media and the African Charismatic Church

Written by Benita Abenaa Nyarko Uttenthal on October 7th, 2013
Summary:

Berrigan (1979, p. 8), as cited by Howley (2009), defines community media as ‘adaptations of media for use by the community, for whatever purposes the community decides.’ (p.16) In the case of the Charismatic megachurches, the purpose is clear – spreading their ‘prosperity gospel’ which stresses ‘personal fulfillment and success as much as theology.’ (CQ Researcher, 21 Sept. 2007, p. 769)

Inside the 'Charismatic' megachurches of Africa

Inside the ‘Charismatic’ megachurches of Africa

Berrigan (1979, p. 8), as cited by Howley (2009), defines community media as ‘adaptations of media for use by the community, for whatever purposes the community decides.’ (p.16) In the case of the Charismatic megachurches, the purpose is clear – spreading their ‘prosperity gospel’ which stresses ‘personal fulfillment and success as much as theology.’ (CQ Researcher, 21 Sept. 2007, p. 769)

The Case of KICC and the African Charismatic Movement

In 1992, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo a ‘reverse mission,’ or a mission to bring the Gospel from Africa to the West. He founded Kingsway International Christian Center (KICC), now the fastest growing church in western Europe. KICC was founded to serve the ‘socio-economic and spiritual needs of multi-cultural [Christian] communities.’

In terms of community media, KICC has ‘grown big’ by using every available medium to spread their objectives. Through Matthew Ashimolowo Media, KICC publishes Christian literature, as well as produces the internationally-broadcast Winning Ways media ministry which produces television and radio programs, as well as Christian literature and documentaries. New media has only enhanced this rapidly-growing community-based effort. On the church’s homepage, viewers can listen to podcasts, live streaming of sermons, blog and make purchases in the online shop. As the homepage declares, ‘We believe in using timely technology to teach the timeless truth.’ (www.KICC.org.uk, TV/Radio, 2013). This speaks directly of the level of engagement these churches are prepared to have with new media. Already characteristic of these churches is their by any means necessary approach to evangelism. Charismatic churches, such as KICC, have certainly envisaged new media as a frontier yet to be fully explored.

The engagement of these churches can be understood through the lens of institutions. Lievrouw (2011) explains that new media can be defined through the institutions whose governance mandates them to achieve a particular objective. (p. 6) The use of new media to reach the broadest possible audience in an effort to winning as many souls as possible to Christ fulfills an age-old expectation which resonates with a broad audience.

The aim of KICC, among many other African-led charismatic movements, seems to be to create a congregational environment where virtual members get the sense that they are receiving the same level of pastoral care as those present in the church buildings. In this way, the megachurches can be viewed as good examples of the instrumentalization of media and communication technology as an ‘integral aspect of communication itself’ rather than simply as a mean to an end or an intervention. (Lievrouw, 2011, p. 6) New media give the opportunity for the church to recreate the real experience of churchgoing in a virtual space. On at least five different megachurch websites, participants can receive counseling, send prayer requests, share testimonies, give offerings and donations, and get involved in the service of the church. The church members can build relationships through their links on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The ‘Charismatic’ churches serve as a positive example of the information society in terms of Rao (2005) 8 C’s; they have clearly considered the pressing issues of connectivity, content, communities, commerce, capacity, culture, cooperation, and capital. (pp. 275-279) The churches sustain themselves financially, offer a message that is far-reaching which resonates with local and virtual audiences, and capitalize on the technical knowledge base within their  membership.

The influence of the ‘Charismatic’ churches of Ghana and Nigeria cannot be underestimated or ignored. Religion’s impact, in the Ghanaian and Nigerian context, weighs in as a heavyweight force that arguably transcends that of political parties or ethnic affiliation. As these churches seem to understand the potential of ICTs to ‘create and unleash the developmental force of human socio-economic and political networks,’ governments in emerging economies could take note from the ‘Charismatic’ churches as they attempt to overcome the key challenge, as Rao (2005) describes, ‘to align the interests and strengths of various constituents of society and find their appropriate niches in the global information society.’ (ibid., pp. 274-5).

Literature Reference List

Colin, T. (m. ed.). (21 Sept 2007) The Rise of Megachurches. Congressional Quarterly Researcher. Volume 17, No. 33, pp. 769-792. Retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/chamblissintro/study/materials/cq_researcher/

cq_12megachurches.pdf

Howley, Kevin (2009). Understanding Community Media : SAGE Publications. Retrieved from http://www.eblib.com

Kingsway International Christian Centre. Viewed on 4 October 2013 on website www.kicc.org.uk

Lievrouw, Leah (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media. Oxford: Polity Press

Rao, M.(2005)  The Information Society: Visions and Realities of Developing Countries. Hemer, O. & Tufte, T. (eds) Media and Glocal Change. Rethinking Communication for Development. Buenos Aires: CLACSO. Ch. 16, pp. 271-284. Retrieved from http://bibliotecavirtual.clacso.org.ar/ar/libros/edicion/media/media.html

 

 

7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Anna-Therese Nordeman says:

    I think this example is great and really shows that “Community Media are ‘developed in response to local needs and under
    community control’ (CMWG, 2003 in Cammaerts 2007:242). This community has adapted to new ways of communication and made accessible its activity to more people – those who have moved,those who cannot walk to church during convalecence etc – and this without decrease their regular services. Modern and impressive!

    • Benita Abenaa Nyarko Uttenthal says:

      The more I find out, the more I question whether the charismatic churches’ new media engagement actually serves as an example of ‘community’ media. UNESCO describes community media as media by, for, in and about the community which it serves. It further characterizes this media as that which is held accountable to the community which it serves; it is driven by the community and emerges from a demand by the community for space in the public sphere ‘free from political or commercial interference.’ (Community Media, http://www.UNESCO.org) The push towards engaging new media has been the effort of senior church leadership. When attempting to link to the churches’ Twitter accounts, for example, viewers are led to the personal Twitter accounts of the senior pastors. Blogposts are mainly used by senior pastors or otherwise are filled with prayer requests. It is difficult to assess the level of participation and empowerment of the church membership in the new media activities.

  2. LinneaE says:

    I completely agree with Benita here – it is one thing to say that this church has been successful in their efforts to spread their gospel far and wide, and that they have used social and new media to do so, but I do not believe it can be characterized as community media. If you wanted to take a look at a couple of other blog posts where we have discussed the definition of community media, check out this: http://wpmu.mah.se/nmict132group1/tag/need-community-media/

    Also, Benita has already mentioned UNESCO and the council of Europe report edited by Lewis (can be found here http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/media/doc/H-Inf(2008)013_en.pdf ), but according to AMARC’s community radio definition it must be “editorially independent of government, commercial and religions institutions and political parties”. So even if the church was non-profit, it still would not count as community radio because of its ties to religion.

  3. Bernice says:

    Through social media I’m able to access extensive information. The churches mentioned in the article have taken things to the next level by making, through the use of social media, church an interactive experience. Using the church as a model, other areas of the community could become more interactive as well. Local and national governments could follow the example to have a more inclusive democracy.

  4. Chris Hall says:

    Have these churches made ​​an actual catechism or description of their view on Christianity, or is it up to the individual priest that Sunday or the founder of the church to guide on that? Is there some clear theological messages that differs from other more established churches? Or does the “Charismatic Churches” fill out a need for more individual engagement through a different form of ceremony? Is that an important role of the church for these congregations? How different are the “Charismatic Churches” you mention from each other? Are they similar in their messages? Or is it their use of technology and ability to expand that puts them together in one category?

    • Benita Abenaa Nyarko Uttenthal says:

      What makes the Charismatic movement interesting is that the churches grew from the independent grassroots level to their present positions. In the case of Dags Heward Mills’ Lighthouse Chapel, the church began in the halls of the medical school at the University of Ghana. At a point, members were meeting under trees and in classrooms to discuss issues and hold services. (www.lighthousechapel.org). In the case of Dr. Mensa Otabil of the International Central Gospel Church, his sermons are as much about development as they are about spirituality. Some sermon titles include ‘You Can’t Take Shortcuts to Greatness’ and ‘Breaking the Spirit of Inferiority’; these sermons are accessible on at the church building, on YouTube, in minibooks, and on the churches weekly radio and TV programs. The pastors of these churches use the principles present in the Bible to guide their membership to more effective and efficient development strategies on a personal as well as societal level. The churches are community grown and their messages come out of the needs of the communities they serve. Their messages are of empowerment and development, and often resemble self-help seminars rather than sermons. The media they choose not only reflects the Biblical imperative to reach all of mankind; it also speaks to the foresight of the churches’ leadership in understanding the need to include and engage as many people as possible in achieving the various development aims of these churches, such as establishing liberal arts universities as so many of them have, attempting to fill the gap caused by the lack of space in the state universities.

      Additionally, I just want to point out that, at least within the Ghanaian context and arguably throughout the Global South, God cannot be separated from the discussion on development. Many people trust religious institutions far more than they do other institutions within society. The mission of the church and the personal and societal gains of church engagement cut across ethnic, political and class lines and inspire the passion of people despite their backgrounds.

      The charismatic churches have set agendas void of denominational doctrine that potentially divide and have designed a seemingly inclusive and participatory structure. They focus on achieving their aims by building up the church on both local-congregational and international levels. These churches cannot be ignored in the discussion on community media in particular and development in general.

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