Joel Gray

Explaining the Growth of the Church in Burkina

2005 marks the 75th anniversary of SIM’s presence among the Gourmanché people of eastern Burkina Faso. Today approximately 540 local churches and adherents numbering some 40, 000 represent the fruit that the first missionaries in 1930 dared dream of. When speaking with Burkinabé Christians and expatriate missionaries alike, a common assumption is often voiced regarding the growth of the church in Burkina. This hypothesis links the explosive growth of the church to the institutions the mission established during the 1950’s.

For example, Friesen, who interviewed many Gourmanché Christians, summarizes their views when he suggests, “The foundation for growth was established in the fifties when the Bible schools and medical clinics were created and the New Testament translation was completed.”

Similarly, Lamoudi Ouôba, a former president of the church, in a report entitled, “Six Factors Influencing Church Growth,” presents the following as the six factors: Bible schools, Scripture translation, dispensary and maternity centers, Christian elementary schools, the girl’s school, and evangelism.

Dipple’s research very clearly demonstrates quantitative evidence to support the augmenting numbers of people attending SIM related churches during the nineteen fifties and sixties, thereby confirming the contention. These reports along with many other testimonies exemplify attitudes in Burkina concerning the causal agents of church growth.

Other Important Factors

While one would be foolish to argue against the important role such institutions have played in kingdom work in Burkina, I will propose that other factors, things too often overlooked, may have contributed more to the growth of the church than is often indicated.

I believe these components can be found in the lives of the first missionaries to the Gourmanché people and can be seen as much in who these people were, as in what they did.

The Focus of This Paper

In this paper I intend to demonstrate that social and relational factors played a crucial role in establishing the church among the Gourmanché. I propose to do so by looking at the early missionaries themselves, by demonstrating that their motivations, goals, work, trials, and relationships contributed to a mission ‘ethos’ from which eventual mission strategy and institutions emerged.


Joel Gray

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