From Penury to Prosperity. The Churches at the Epicentre of social-economic Transformation 

June 29, 2023

     By Duncan Green     

Guest post from Emmanuel Murangira, Tearfund Country Director, Rwanda

22 years ago I left the business world to work for one of the oldest church relief and development organisations. I was full of enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of working for a church organisation that I thought served the cause of my faith. I soon found out that, although this was a church organisation, it did not believe in the power of the church to bring about transformation. The popular belief in this and similar organisations, then and even today, was that the church lacked capacity and institutional arrangements to deliver social services and relief to those in need. However, based on my own experience, I was not convinced! I had grown up as a refugee, the nearest health services and any semblance of a formal education within a ten-mile radius was a church shed. Many of those like me who had a hard start in life are a living testimony of what the church can do in people’s lives.

I knew then and have always believed that the church has the ability to bring about transformation in people’s lives. For six years in my first humanitarian sector role, I worked so hard not only to use the church where it was convenient, but to resource the church to seek, reach out and serve those in greatest need.

Members of the Zizu community in Rwanda harvesting bananas from the plantation they set up through their church-based training group. Photo: Marcus Perkins / Tearfund

Coming to Tearfund eight years later, my enthusiasm was rekindled. My belief in the transforming power of the church was met by an organisational commitment to equip and walk with the church to bring lasting change among those in extreme poverty.

The first years of my work at Tearfund were the hardest; despite there being evidence across Rwanda and Burundi of the church’s long-standing work in social services and social infrastructure, the low capacity narrative seemed deeply entrenched. Strategies and proposals that involved working with and through churches were shunned, and at times vehemently opposed, by some within church organisations, as well as the wider development sector.

Like any human led institution, whether secular or spiritual, the church had at different times failed in its professed mission. The church in Rwanda had failed to prevent the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 and it was again failing to actively condemn a similar situation in Burundi. Her moral authority had been severely eroded; nevertheless it remained the go to place for social, economic and spiritual support in communities.

For a person like me, who literally owes a good part of their life to the church, the recently published Church and Community Transformation (CCT) Impact Study: Local church, lasting transformation is a vindication. It is a testament that what I and those like me have persistently said about the church is not just theological understanding but based on reality. As Tearfund’s largest ever, peer-reviewed impact study, carried out by independent consultancy State of Life, it speaks to the impact of work to expand the mission of local churches beyond their congregations, to address the needs of their communities, empowering individuals to utilise available resources. The Church and Community Transformation (CCT) process enables local communities to exercise their agency in selecting outcomes and activities that align with their specific circumstances and needs, such as providing vocational skills training, establishing community projects, engaging in advocacy with decision-makers, and forming support and savings groups. The process recognises the autonomy of communities and fosters self-reliance, social cohesion and well-being, undergirded by cooperation, trust and a strong value system.

The CCT Impact study takes a wellbeing and social value approach to measure the impact of the Church and Community Transformation (CCT) process across four African countries, including Rwanda, and provides strong evidence to validate the effectiveness of the approach. The study tests the hypothesis that the CCT process contributes to sustainable change and well-being improvements in economic, personal, social, and spiritual areas of life. In addition, it investigates whether the benefits extend beyond church members and ultimately permeate the wider community.

To do this, the study explored 23 measures of wellbeing in both CCT and non-CCT communities, analysing the data using multiple linear regression. It revealed that communities engaged in the CCT process demonstrated more positive outcomes across all 23 measured aspects of wellbeing, including 27% higher life satisfaction. The positive impacts on wellbeing extended beyond the participants, resulting in the establishment of new or improved community assets in 90% of the communities involved in CCT.

The study also demonstrated remarkable social value generated by participating in CCT, with every £1 (GBP) invested by Tearfund and communities resulting in a substantial social return of £28 worth of enhanced wellbeing, applying the recognised WELLBY approach to these contexts for possibly the first time.  External investment by Tearfund and partners was complemented (indeed very substantially exceeded) by the time, money and resources invested by communities themselves (in a ratio of 1 to 7), resulting in joint efforts that solidified the sustainable and empowering nature of the CCT process.

Overall, the findings of the impact study offer compelling evidence for the effectiveness of the CCT approach in promoting community wellbeing, and contribute to the academic understanding of the church’s potential in promoting well being and improved economic outcomes for the poor. These results come at an unprecedented time in the history of human development, when the gains of the past six decades or so of community development could be undone by the devastating effects of climate change, the increasing threat of pandemics and conflict. They underscore the importance of holistic and participatory interventions that empower communities and foster sustainable change.

These results do not surprise me: when the church mobilises and organises people for their own transformation, the results are phenomenal, as we see them from the impact study. To me, the CCT approach to equipping churches offers the best prospects for high return, highly effective and sustainable transformative engagement with the poor. As the saying goes, the facts speak for themselves, and they have!

To read more about the approach to the study, please see the practice example and two blog posts – converting the WELLBY and Tearfund’s approach to wellbeing measurement – on the What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

June 29, 2023
Duncan Green


  1. Thank you, Emmanuel, for generously sharing widely your personal experience, transformative journey, and research on CCT. Keep on doing your good work.

  2. The work of Irish missionaries, which has been evaluated on countless occasions, bears out what this informative article says. Whilst the UN and its entities, Western governments and other state agencies, have no interest whatever in churches – indeed they undermine and try to curtail their beliefs – they use church organisations for operational purposes to achieve their development and humanitarian objectives.

  3. Thanks so much Emmanuel for sharing. Transformed Churches can have huge impact I have also seen this in Ireland. You mentioned the Church and genocide I would also caution that lack of attention to safeguarding, whistleblowing, corruption and gender inequity can torpedo this type of transformative power of the Churches even after being mobilized for transformation. How we organize ourselves to offer support to denominations and mobilized Churches and communities will have a big impact on whether or not we reduce these risks to transformative impact.

  4. Thanks for sharing Emmanuel. It seems that this CCT process is ripe for some systems change thinking to extend your impact even further. I hope this is something TearFund can consider exploring going forward.

  5. Thanks very much for sharing your insights and experiences of CCT in Rwanda. As you say Emmanuel, the evidence is compelling. The church is a trusted community organisation and the CCT methodology is a powerful tool that enables people to overcome the development challenges that they face. Bringing these two things together can be transformative in helping communities address multi-dimensional poverty. Having this evidence will help us address those unhelpful narratives you refer to, held by both the church and the institutional funding community, and in so doing help realise the potential of the church as a truly global development actor.

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