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African Initiated Churches

AIC stands for:

These are Christian bodies in Africa that were established as a result of African initiative, rather than on the initiative of foreign missionary organisations. While most people agree on the initials, there is less agreement about what they stand for, and what the variations mean. For more information about the terminology, see the AIC terminology page.

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The Southern African Missiological Society publishes the journal Missionalia three times a year, with articles, reviews and abstracts dealing with Christian mission.
African Independent Churches
African Initiated Churches (AICs) are the fastest-growing Christian groups in many parts of Africa. This page gives some introductory information about them, a list of AIC researchers, and links for some articles where more information can be found.
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There are several electronic forums for discussing missiological topics. These are available both as e-mail mailing lists or as BBS echo conferences.

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What are AICs?

With the exception of Ethiopia, Christianity first came to most of sub-Saharan Africa when it was brought by missionaries from Western Europe and North America, especially in the 19th century. These missionaries generally tried to set up local congregations and church organisations along the lines of those they were familiar with in their home countries, but by the end of the 19th century many African Christians had formed independent denominations. Some, the so-called Ethiopians, tended to follow the pattern of church organisation bequeathed to them by the missionaries, and their desire for independence of control by foreign missionaries was a reaction against the racism that came to the fore in the age of the new imperialism - roughly between 1870 and the beginning of the First World War.

Other groups, commonly called Zionists in Southern Africa, trace their origin to the Christian Catholic Church in Zion (Zion City, Illinois) with an emphasis on divine healing and the building of holy cities. They were later influenced by American Pentecostal missionaries, though the period of contact was shortlived, and within a few years they were on their own.

Most of the expansion of Christianity in Africa in the 20th century, especially the latter half of the century, has been the result of the missionary efforts of the African independent churches (sometimes called African instituted churches, or African indigenous churches). They are therefore of great interest to missiologists, and several members of the Southern African Missiological Society have made AICs the subject of their research.

Since most members of AICs were poor, especially in the early days, they did not enjoy the same access to communications media that the foreign missionary bodies did, and so much of their early history and growth is unrecorded or poorly recorded. The much better-documented activities of the foreign missionaries were like the tip of an iceberg - visible, but only a fraction of the total mass, which remained hidden from public view. Researchers into AICs, whether members of AICs or outsiders, seek to document this history before it is lost.

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The following people are, or have been, doing research into various aspects of AICs - their history, theology, or relationships with other bodies. This information is from a database of AIC researchers.

  1. Dr. Afe Adogame - Author of 'Celestial Church of Christ'- The Politics of Cultural Identity in a West African Prophetic-Charismatic Movement (Peter Lang, 1999). He teaches African New Religious Movements and African Church History. His current research interests are on African Religions (including AICs) in diaspora - (Germany) Europe, and Religion and Globalization in Africa. E-mail me
  2. Adewumi Akin-Ojo - interested in the studies of African churches. I wrote my MA dissertation on one of Nigerian Pentecostal churches. Presently doing research in Pentecostal Churches in Africa with particular emphasis on the Nigerian originated Redeemed Christian Church of God.
  3. Dr Allan Anderson - AICs throughout the continent, with particular interest in the relationship between religion and culture, and the history and theology of Pentecostalism E-mail me
  4. Revd Dr Isaac Deji Ayegboyin - (i) I have co-authored a book: AFRICAN INDIGENOUS CHURCHES: An Historical Perspective (1997, 1999). (ii) I have written on "Schisms in the Church of the Lord Aladura (Ghana)" (iii) "Schisms in the Cherubim and Seraphim Movement in Nigeria (iv) Working on how the New Pentecostals are" dressed in the borrowed robes of the AICs" (v) Working on Sacred Places in AICs (vi) Cura Divina in the Christ Apostolic Church (vii) The Concept of the enemy among the Yoruba and in the AICs
  5. PD Dr. Michael Bergunder - AICs and African religions, AICs and ecumenical relations, AICs and Pentecostals
  6. Prof. Dr. Christoph Bochinger - African religious groups in Germany and Europe: Independent Churches, Pentecostal Churches with African origins, Churches founded in Germany by Africans, groups with traditional religious backgrounds, African muslims in Germany E-mail me
  7. Elias K. Bongmba -
  8. Jonathan J. Bonk - Dictionary of African Christian Biography E-mail me
  9. Gary Burlington - Dissertation, Biola University. Subject is the Sweet Heart Church of the Clouds (Umutima Uwalowa wa Makumbi) of Zambia. Sometimes called Mutima Church and sometimes called Ba Emilio movement after its founder, Emilio Mulolani Chishimba. Research focuses on using Gananath Obeyesekere's theory of personal symbols for understanding the interplay between the founder's personality and his cultural context in bring this church about. Field work is complete and dissertation is in progress.
  10. Kemp Burpeau - Currently researching John Graham Lake (1870-1935) and US-South African Pentecostalism in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. I am interested in Lake's entire life, with special emphasis on his South African years (1908-1913).
  11. Dr Lilian Dube Chirairo - Women in AICs, their initiatives in church development, leadership roles, and their role in environment and development projects.
  12. Peter Crossman - amaNazaretha/Shembe movement in rural kwaZulu; significance of ancestors in African religion/spirituality. We see the ancestors as part of an ontology, one of life and regeneration, and subsequently of spirituality, but not as a religious aspect that can be termed ancestor worship. This more "classic" Bantu/African vision persists yet shifts in contemporary life and churches and we would like to trace this shift. A corollary is to understand the contribution of Christian mission has been in determining this trajectory.
  13. Dr. Deidre Helen Crumbley - AIC institutional developoment
  14. Eric deRosny - African Traditional Healers (ATH): four books on the coastal healers, specialy in Douala; New Religious Movements (NRM): finishing an evaluation in Douala (100 denominations).
  15. Van'T Spijker, Gerard - Rwanda is one of the few countries where AIC's have not existed for a long period. However, after the genocide of 1994 there has been an enormous growth of AIC's. The research focuses on the questions why before 1994 AIC's were practically non existent in Rwanda, and on the factors behind its mushrooming after 1994. Data of the research are collected by students of the Faculty of Protestant Theology of Butare, and they are mapped, analysed and interpreted by the researcher. In the interpretation both theological position (worldview, relation to modernity, and relation to Church tradition) and political bias are taken into account.
  16. Luaan and Susanne Goosen - We are missionaries to the AmaZioni in Transkei, South Africa and would like updated information on their beliefs and how they could be reached with the gospel. How can we help prevent syncretism from happening again?
  17. Jim Harries - A linguistically biased analysis of the Christian culture of Luo-land in Western Kenya, based especially in Gem, Yala. Looking at peoples' understanding of bad - what it is, where it comes from and how it is removed in and outside of churches, with supervision of Birmingham University in the UK. Working partly with mission and Pentecostal churches, plus indigenous churches such as Luo Nomiya, Legio Maria, Musanda Holy Spirit (Roho), Ruwe Holy Ghost (Roho) or ST, Mowal, Singruok, Luong Mogik (God's Last Appeal), Fweny, African Israel Nineveh, Musanda Christian Church in Kenya and so on. Research methodology based on participant observation linked with a local Bible teaching programme functioning in Luo and Swahili languages using OAIC materials.
  18. Stephen Hayes - Currently researching the African Orthodox Church and groups that have split off from it, and related groups like the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion. I am also interested in episcopi vagantes and their role in mission and the denominations, especially AICs, that they have founded. In the past I have had some knowledge of the Oruuano Church and the Church of Africa in Namibia. I maintain this database of AIC researchers, and also a database of information on AICs and AIC leaders, to which contributions are welcome. E-mail me
  19. Irving Hexham - At present I am editing the oral history of the amaNazarites of Isaiah Shembe translated by Professor Hans-Juergen Backen. My interest in AIC's is seeing them in the context of historic religious traditions both as an influence upon world religions and as they have been shaped by these traditions E-mail me
  20. Jerisdan H. Jehu-Appiah - The emerging theologies of the African Indigenous Churches. An investigation into what the African Indigenous churches think regarding what they do, the theologising that goes on in these churches.
  21. Glyn Jones - We are currently living in Botswana and working with leadership development among the AICs here. What research we do is not formal at this time but is what we need to be helpful to the people who we are connecting with.
  22. Cor Jonker - AICs and indigenous cults in Zambia, with particular interest in medical anthropology and religious healing
  23. Dr. Sidney L. Davis, Jr. - Origin and backround of Sabbatarian AIC organizations, Hebraic roots of indigenous African tribes and religions E-mail me
  24. Andrew Brubacher Kaethler - I am writing a Masters thesis on AIC christologies. I am considering the christologies of three AICs that Mennonites have been working with: the Harrist Church in the Ivory Coast, the Spiritual Healing Church in Botswana, and the Church of Moshoeshoe in Lesotho. I am suggesting that these churches have "nascent christologies" which, although described by many as "weak" have great potential for creative growth in their respective African cultural and social contexts. I am also evaluating how Mennonite mission agencies have been working with these AICs and have encouraged christological maturity.
  25. Rev. Dr. Obed Ndeya Kealotswe - African Independent Churches and cultural integration in Botswana
  26. K. "Limakatso" Kendall - I am working with Mpho Nthunya, herself a Zionist in Lesotho, on a book entitled WHEN SPIRITS CALL ME HOME: SPIRITUALITIES IN SOUTHERN AFRICA. Nthunya's first book, SINGING AWAY THE HUNGER (published in four countries), touched lightly on Zionism, but since the publication of that book she has converted to Zionism herself, and Zionism will absorb considerably more of the second book. I have also worked with Mandla Mlotshwa, of South Africa, who gathered oral history interviews on elders of Zionist churches in Johannesburg. I am particularly interested in the history of Zionism in Lesotho.
  27. Peter Koerner - The role of AICs in social and political transformation in South Africa from the 1980s, with special reference to the St John's Apostolic Faith Mission and its offshoots. Critical choices facing churches in a changing political, social and cultural setting, as they struggle to overcome the burden of apartheid
  28. Marko Kuhn - For the first part of my thesis on AICs in Nyanza/Kenya I have done a detailed study of 21 AICs in that region in order to find out what are their doctrines, ways of worshipping and values. I have also looked into the role they want (not) to play in the political landscape of contemporary Kenya and how they see the role of the traditional African culture in their churches. The second part will be a study into the ecumenical relations with each other and with the "mainstream churches" as well as into the way the look at a future way ahead for their churches, especially vis--vis the upsurge of Neo Pentecostal groups in Kenya.
  29. Frieder Ludwig - Garrick Braide Movement and the Christ Army Church in Southeastern Nigeria ( cf. F. Ludwig, Elijah II. Radicalisation and Consolidation of the Garrick Braide Movement, 1915–1918, Journal of Religion in Africa XXIII/4, 296–317); Proliferation of the Cherubim and Seraphim Churches in the UK (cf. F. Ludwig, Die Entdeckung der schwarzen Kirchen. Afrikanische und afro-karibische Kirchen in England während der Nachkriegszeit, Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, 32, 1992, 131-159); African Independent Churches in the USA (in progress) E-mail me
  30. Andrew M. Mbuvi - I have done only minimal research on AICs since my main area of concentration is Biblical Hermeneutics. But more recently I have been interested in the research of eschatology of the AICs. I am also obviously interested in a study of the differnt heremenutics of the different AICs. I have not specialised in any one particular AIC.
  31. J. Gordon Melton - I am a historian and specialist in North American new religions who has extended his research to Africa. I am attempting to create a maiiling list of African Independent churches as part of a larger project of creating a directory of African religious groups.
  32. Silas Mohale - Neglected AIC Zion AFM Church E-mail me
  33. Edley J Moodley - My project will discover the role that ancestors and Shembe (current leader) play in the amaNazaretha Church of Isaiah Shembe and how they may be distinguished from the role of Jesus Christ in the existential life of the church. The study will then draw some implications for an African Christology, specifically focusing on the role of Christ vis a vis ancestors and Shembe. E-mail me
  34. Mildred A. J. Ndeda - Nomiya Luo Church
  35. Stan Nussbaum - In partnership with Rev. Thomas Oduro, principal of the Good News Theological College and Seminary in Accra, I am currently working on a textbook for use in African seminaries and Bible institutes to encourage interaction of mission-founded churches and AICs. Our focus is the missiology of AICs vis-a-vis neo-Pentecostals and mission-founded churches. The text, which we intend to "publish" one chapter at a time on the Internet, examines the origin, main activities, methods, agents and results of AIC mission. I also edit the Review of AICs, which is the newsletter of the Network on AICs and Missions, 3 per year. I worked in TEE with AICs in Lesotho from 1977-84, and did my doctoral research (University of South Africa, 1986) on the beliefs and practices of five of the churches there.
  36. Rev. Harrison G. Olan'g - The study is a theological investigation of the impact of spiritism on the Luo conception of the Holy Spirit and how that impact is manifested in their way of worship and lifestyle. Two AICs are used as case study, i.e., Legio Maria and Roho Ruwe, both in Tanzania. Study areas include the Luo indigenous religious beliefs, Pneumatology of Legio and Roho churches and the Pneumatology of the mother churches from which Legio and Roho broke away i.e., Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
  37. Robert Papini - After mounting a museum exhibition on Shembe's church (Nazareth Baptists) in 1992-3, I continued collecting materials on their history and present practice, and have published a small booklet, a couple of essays, and recently the Prophet Shembe's 1929 testimony in JnlRelignAfr. I am currently editing two volumes of the church's literature for a series in the Edwin Mellen Press, and hoping to script a video using footage I have taped over several years of attendance at various Church calendar events and domestic ceremonies.
  38. Prof Isabel Apawo Phiri - Prophesying and Evangelising Daughters of God. This research is based on four Churches and ministries founded by women in Malawi. It is based on story telling methodology with emphasis on the missiology of these churches. In Zambia I am studying Victory ministries with emphasis on evangelicals contribution to political democracy.
  39. George Pickens - Completed a dissertation on oral theology within the Church of Christ in Africa, Johera (Kenya). Also researching hermeneutics and oral theology.
  40. Ian Ritchie - My research on AICs includes the Legio Maria church of Kenya. The church has "chief sniffers" called "Jucheckos" who sniff newcomers at the entrance to discern if their intentions are evil. This is a practice borrowed from African religion, and is found in many African traditional contexts. The practice has implications for the correct translation of Isaiah and a number of other passages in the Bible where bodily metaphors of knowing are used. E-mail me
  41. Kristina Scurry - I am currently writing a thesis for Princeton University on churches, gender, and HIV/AIDS in black South African townships. I am interested in how gender is perceived in AIC communities, and whether this has an impact on sexual behavior, stigma, or AIDS care.
  42. Ralph Woodhall sj - updating the Harold Turner collection; ecumenical relations with AICs
  43. Ulf Strohbehn - I have written my MA on the AFM in Malawi, it is being published by Kachere. I am now researching the entire Pentecostal ferment in this country, have already written on Zionism and listed so far 211 different denominations, with interviews on most of them.

How to be added to the researchers' database

If you would like to be added to the AIC researchers' database, send an e-mail message to , asking for the on-line form to fill in and return by e-mail. The form is also posted periodically on the AIC discussion conference (see below).

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Discussion forum on AICs

We would like to invite anyone who is interested in the history, theology or practice of AICs to join the electronic discussion forum for AICs. If you know of others who may be interested, please pass this message on to them, and help us to bring it to the attention of researchers and scholars who are interested in this subject.

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For more information see the discussion forum web page

Group Email Addresses
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Articles on AICs

Special feature

A special report on the Fifth Continental Conference of the Network on AICs and Mission which was held in July 2001 in Ghana is now available. The report, by Stan Nussbaum, also has links to some of the papers read at the conference.

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