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I believe in global terms Christianity is at a turning point. It’s possible that what the future of global Christianity looks like largely depends on what happens in Africa.
Over the past year I’ve been trying to start a conversation with Christian publishers around the world, because I believe they have the opportunity to play their part in transforming Africaand in doing so, enable them to create a business model that won’t just enable them to survive, but thrive in the decades to come. Please read this, please point me in the right direction, and please forwards to anyone who you think can help.
This idea has three starting points:
1) The need for discipleship
“Growth without depth.” These are the three words that John Stott used to sum up the state of Christianity in the world today. In his final book, ‘The Radical Disciple’ he quotes one African church leader who explains, “the growth [of the church in Africa] is largely numerical…the church is without a strong biblical or theological foundation of her own.”
My experience, supported by a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence, is that there is a hunger for resources that enable growth – both in terms of understanding and application of the Christian faith. This is particularly true amongst the growing number of educated under-30s. Currently there is a lack of resources. Those that are available are often expensive, difficult to get hold of and not particularly suitable. A significant number of the widely available books promote (or come extremely close to promoting) ‘prosperity theology’.
There are organisations (e.g. Langham Partnership) that exist to translate and distribute good quality resources in developing countries. However, most of these organisations focus on providing resources to pastors and theological colleges. There is a need to provide resources to Christians-at-large.
2) The opportunity for publishers
The number of Christians in Africa is growing rapidly, as is the literacy rate and the level of financial resources available to many people (although not nearly fast enough). Therefore, within the next decade it is likely that there will be a viable market for Christian resources in many African countries (and in developing countries throughout the world).
It’s important to note that this is not a one way street. This is not just about developing an appropriate medium for books to be published throughout Africa and creating an effective distribution network, so that books published in the West can be reproduced and sold throughout Africa. At the very least resources will need to be contextualised. However, all this needs to be seen within the bigger picture. The ‘centre’ of Christianity is moving from the north and the west to the south and the east. It probably won’t be long until a significant number of the ‘best’ theological colleges are in, and Christian authors are from, African countries; it’s a trend that has already started. Therefore, in the long term this idea is also about ensuring that books written by African authors are published in the West.
It is essential that this opportunity is developed from the grassroots up. It’s an opportunity for western publishers to provide indigenousness entrepreneurs with the resources they need in order to develop creative distributions networks in the countries that they know well.
3) The technology revolution
Technology is sweeping across the African continent like wildfire. The most obvious example is mobile phone technology, and now mobile internet, as most African countries bypass landline technologies! Some of latest technology such as mobile banking and digital voice networks are being rolled out throughout Africa long before they arrive in the UK!
It’s become increasingly apparent that ‘missing a step’ is highly likely when it comes to books too. Therefore, the smart money is on eBooks, not printing books. Bible reading notes delivered to smart phones. Libraries not been a place where physical books are lent out from, rather places where people come to charge their eBook readers and download the latest titles.
I don’t claim to be the first person to think of any of this, or to be the only person who has joined the dots in this way. I have begun to do some research (none of which I’ve cited in the post) and across the development spectrum, from the World Bank to the smallest grassroots NGO, the whole idea of eBooks in Africa is being explored. I’m keen to ensure that this conversation is at the forefront of Christian publishers. I’ll continue to research, I’m keen to start, have, and join in on conversations. I’d like to explore options and the feasibility of eBooks. I’m particular keen to find funding to run a pilot project in Busolwe, Uganda. My idea is to run a pilot study amongst rural pastors and teachers. However, ideally this would be part of a larger pilot study including students and urbanites as well. If you know of anyone doing such studies, or exploring the possibility of doing so, please let me know.