Explaining the African Phenomenon of Rented Crowds

Here is help in understanding the phenomenon of a quick large crowd in many African contexts.  Visitors from the west often assume that the size of the crowd is evidence that a ministry in Africa is exploding with growth.  One African pastor and author explains it this way:

In our African culture, a distinguished visitor coming to a village draws the attention of the whole village. Life comes to a stand still. Everyone comes to welcome the visitor. No one wants to simply hear about the event afterwards. They all want to be there. It is bad manners, therefore, to receive a visitor and not send word around. It is like receiving Father Christmas alone and not sharing him—and his gifts—with your neighbours and friends.

When you announce to a pastor in Africa’s rural or semi-rural areas that you will be coming to visit his church, he will tell his congregation who will in turn inform their friends and relatives. The result of this is that on the day of your visit, half the village will be at that church, with many hundreds failing to fit into the building. This is especially the case if you are a muzungu (a white man) or a bishop (or some such high title). The excitement and the singing are not at their usual pitch. They are heightened by the thrill that a special visitor is in their midst. So, you will go away with a totally wrong view of the numbers that normally attend that church and the spiritual ecstasy in that congregation. There is no conscious effort to deceive. This is a phenomenon that just happens.

The... next time you visit Africa with your camera and take pictures of a congregation in any of our African townships or villages, easily divide the attendance by a quarter in order to arrive at the regular attendance of that church. The other three-quarters were not gathered in order to deceive you but simply because you were the most important event in the area and the people did not want to miss out. You can be sure that as soon as you got into your car and left, the congregation melted faster than ice when put on a red-hot stove.

You can read the entire article here.