Examining the Role of the Church in Socio-Economic Development of the Rural Poor in the Sub-Saharan Region: Insights from Previous Research and Future Research Directions
There is an increasing attention on the role of the church in development at the global, regional, national and local levels especially among poor communities in developing countries. The church as a social institution plays an important role in the spiritual and socio-economic development of its members and communities yet there is paucity of studies on its role especially in the marginalized rural settings in sub-Saharan Africa region. This paper presents a systematic review of previous research on socio-economic development of poor and marginalized communities in the SSA. Specifically, it aims to examine the impact of the church in various contexts in championing initiatives for improving lives in poor communities. It also seeks to establish the gaps in knowledge to inform more studies in church-driven socio-economic development and to analyze methodological and theoretical gaps in the practice of church-driven socio-economic development. The study has been conducted through a desktop review of selected journal articles on the topic of church and development. Gaps in knowledge, theory, methodology, analysis and interpretation are synchronized from the previous studies. While acknowledging various theological standpoints harbored by churches, the paper proposes that to be effective in development, churches have to work together to collaborate and complement each other in socio-economic development initiatives. In order to formulate a universal church’s approach to development, it is recommended that deliberate efforts be made to undertake quality studies that go beyond local churches to embrace a developmental framework for the universal church. More mainstreaming of existing studies is also required in order to inform and enrich theory and practice of the universal church in socio-economic development.
Keywords: Poverty alleviation, rural marginalized communities, socio-economic development, church, Sub-sahara Africa