At the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement and in the years of formation of the WCC, Africa was considered a "mission field" with little ecclesial identity of its own. The only exceptions were Egypt and Ethiopia with their ancient Orthodox churches and South Africa where the Dutch and British colonization had brought into existence several autonomous denominations.  Africa came onto the "ecumenical map" in the early years of independence of its new nations and churches in the late 1950s and 1960s. One after the other the churches which had obtained their autonomy from their "mother" churches in Europe and North America applied for membership with the WCC. Their presence and participation brought a whole new dimension to the agenda of the ecumenical movement with the rapid extension of programmes dealing with development, social justice, racism and conflict resolution but also evangelism, theological education, formation of the laity etc.

As early as 1963 the African churches founded their own regional ecumenical organization, the All africa Conference of Churches (AACC). Today the Africa region of the WCC is comprised mostly of the countries south and east of the Sahara and the islands in the Indian Ocean. Egypt is part of the Middle East region (but the Egyptian churches are members of the AACC). There is only one WCC member church in the Maghreb (Algeria) and since 2005 also one in the Sahel area (Burkina Faso). Currently the WCC has 94 member churches in Africa with a total membership of over 165 million Christians. National councils of churches or Christian councils or similar bodies exist in most of the countries. In several of these the local Catholic Church is a full or associate member. Over the past two decades four sub-regional fellowships of councils and churches have been formed which cover Southern Africa, the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, West Africa and Central Africa. There are also national evangelical alliances or fellowships in most African countries.

A particular characteristic of Africa is the existence of the so-called African Instituted (or Independent) Churches (AICs) which were founded by Africans in the first half of the 20th century in the struggle for liberation from missionary and colonial tutelage. Several of these churches have joined the ecumenical movement. More recently Pentecostalism has resulted in the formation of rapidly growing new churches and has also brought a charisatic transformation of many of the mission-founded churches. Africa has one of the highest rates of church growth in the world. The trends in statistical date suggest that within a few decades the centre of gravity of world Christianity will have shifted to Africa.  The main church bodies at the continental level are :

  • All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC)
  • Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM, Roman Catholic)
  • Association of Evangelicals of Africa (AEA)
  • Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC).

Since a few years the AACC and SECAM have initiated a cooperation at the regional level.

Last updated: 1.1.2006