Most of the literature on African independent churches (AICs) in South Africa has not paid much attention to their economic and developmental role. In contrast, this article will show how AICs are involved in important economic activities such as voluntary mutual benefit societies, savings clubs, lending societies, stokvels (informal savings funds), and burial societies that control millions of South African rand. In light of firsthand empirical research, this article investigates these kinds of activities, and analyses independent churches’ developmental role. This will allow us to better understand how these communities play a strong and supportive function among Africans in a deprived economic situation. In a period of socio-political transformation in South Africa, AICs are able to answer the needs of the people and their hunger to rebuild an identity. My major critique of classical research on AICs is the failure of the literature to address ‘social change’ in a theoretically adequate way, as something more than just descriptions of ‘traditional’ social structures away from interpretations of modernity.