Reinhard Bonnke was born on 19 April 1940, in Königsberg, East Prussia, Germany, the son of an army logistics officer. With his mother and siblings, he was taken to Denmark during the evacuation of East Prussia and spent some years in a displaced persons centre. He became a born-again Christian at the age of nine after his mother spoke with him about a sin that he had committed. He left for missionary work in Africa at the age of 10 and said that he had the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit. After war service, his father had become a pastor.
After graduating from the Bible College of Wales and returning to Germany, Bonnke led a series of meetings in Rendsburg. He began receiving speaking invitations from all around Germany and the rest of the world. Bonnke met Anni Suelze at a gospel music festival, and admired the grace with which she recovered from a wrongly pitched music performance at the expense of losing the competition. He offered to preach at the church she attended one Sunday and fell in love with her. They married in 1964 and had three children.
Bonnke studied at the Bible College of Wales in Swansea, Wales, where he was inspired by the director, Samuel Rees Howells. In one meeting after Howells spoke of answered prayer, Bonnke prayed, "Lord, I also want to be a man of faith. I want to see your way of providing for needs." Passing through London, he had a chance meeting with the famous preacher George Jeffreys, who encouraged the young German student. After graduation, he pastored in Germany for seven years. He began his ministry in Africa, with which he was principally identified, preaching in Lesotho in 1967. He subsequently held evangelical meetings across the continent.
In 1974, Bonnke founded the mission organisation Christ For All Nations (abbreviated CfaN). Originally based in Johannesburg, South Africa, the headquarters were relocated to Frankfurt, Germany, in 1986. This was done primarily to distance the organisation from South Africa's apartheid policy at the time. Today CfaN has 9 offices across 5 continents.
Bonnke began his ministry holding tent meetings that accommodated large crowds. According to an account published by the Christian Broadcasting Network, in 1984 he commissioned the construction of what was claimed to be the world's largest mobile structure – a tent capable of seating 34,000; this was destroyed in a wind storm just before a major meeting and therefore the team decided to hold the event in the open air instead. According to this account, the event was subsequently attended by over 100,000 people which is far greater than the 34,000 seating capacity the tents could contain.
In 1991, during Bonnke's visit to Kano in Nigeria, there were riots in the city as Muslims protested over remarks he had reportedly made about Islam in the city of Kaduna on his way to Kano. A rumor was spread that Bonnke was planning to "lead an invasion" into Kano. Muslim youths gathered at the Kofar Mata Eide-ground where they were addressed by several clerics who claimed that Bonnke was going to blaspheme Islam. About 8,000 youths gathered at the Emir's palace and after noon prayers the riots ensued, during which many Christians sustained various injuries and several churches were burned. After nine years he returned to Nigeria to preach.
Bonnke announced his "farewell gospel crusade" to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, in November 2017. Lagos is also the location of a gospel crusade held in 2000 which, according to CfaN, is the organisation's largest to-date, drawing an attendance of six million people. In 2019 Reinhard Bonnke was set to headline the G12 Africa Conference in Pretoria, South Africa.
Bonnke died on 7 December 2019, surrounded by his family according to a statement signed by his wife. Bonnke had announced on his official Facebook page in November 2019 that he had undergone femur surgery and needed time to "learn how to walk again".