Church Business In Nigeria By Zion Nwabuwa
Many years ago the idea of “church” we had was of a sacred building where the soul is to be fed spiritually or where one ran to after a very saddening dream or a place to remind one of the imminence of rapture or the second-coming of Jesus Christ especially after a fire-and-brimstone message. Whoever attended churches like Deeper Life and the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) were usually seen as super-zealous and “spiri-coco” or S.U (originally meaning Scripture Union but later changed to a mocking acronym of suegbe union, to connote over-spirituality and being anti-social) but deep in the heart of the name-callers these S.Us were holier (technically). The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) is another church that was seen as holy probably because of the spiritual level of the present General Overseer or the founding fathers but has seen a lot of dilution in doctrine what with the parallel existence of model parishes that accommodate trousers for ladies and other things “forbidden” in the regular Redeemed parish.
Without intent of any pun, “church” connoted anything but fun and enjoyment and if there was any place at all youths could find solace it will be Living Faith Church (better known as Winners’ Chapel) or Believers’ Loveworld (better known as Christ Embassy). In these places worship was fun and camp programmes were times of hangout for young people with more messages on prosperity and relationships than the true essence of spirituality.
We also had the likes of the late Elijah Akinade’s Lion of Judah (another acclaimed CAC extract) who was quite fiery in the spirit (until we heard stories after his death) and the camouflage-kitting Apostle Tom Samson with a signature programme (IT IS WAR!!). Revd. Dr. Samson Ayorinde of World Evangelism Bible Church, Pastor Femi Emmanuel of Turning Point and a certain Laughter Foundation made up the pack of major churches in Lagos, goodness me!!..how did I almost forget the highly controversial Prophet Temitope Babalola Joshua and Brother Chris Okotie? Some of these churches (and other minor ones ) kept us in check one way or another but this was up until about 2005 when things began to change.
Waters started mixing, many unwholesome and unbecoming things started happening and we started hearing stories; allegations of adultery, involvement in politics, divorce, financial misappropriations, favouritism and nepotism all began flying freely in the air; the church was infiltrated and the doctrine was HIGHLY diluted. This was the beginning of the “church business” era.
Welcome 2006 and it seemed like a new industry was created. Several religious organizations and gatherings sprung up with 95% of their leaders having Ameri-British* accent, fashion was introduced (in the name of looking good), by 2010 one could hear “praise the Lord” on a megaphone and another church will reply via another megaphone. They were that much and close to each other and by 2011 every letter of the alphabet had a church name attached to it! Sadly the country moved from evil to more evil despite the acclaimed increase in the dishing out of the doctrine.
Presently hardly does a church believe in the old doctrine of sisters covering their hair or fervent prayers or sanctification and the fruits of the spirit. In fact sometime ago I stumbled on a flier being distributed by a modern day church inviting people to a set of December events and my observation baffled me: carol Tuesday, casual Wednesday, love Thursday, this Friday and that Saturday.. the only thing that made me know it was a church paper was the name written on it. Nothing like the “old” church slogan “Jesus Is Lord”…alarming!
It seems now that every young man is being called (the mode of calling does not matter) and the criteria are simple: be handsome, sharpen your oratory skills, speak good English and understand the power of branding and packaging, every other thing will fall in place!… and as for a degree we really can’t be bothered but “Dr” in front of your name will score you more points even if it’s from a Theological school.
Again in the newest of churches we hardly hear names like “Pastor Bartholomew Adegboyega” or “Evangelist Udoka Godstime” that’s outdated. What we hear now are names like “Pastor Flow” “Pastor T-Fresh” “Pastor B-Swag” and the likes and when they open their mouths to “preach” we ask ourselves “who exactly called this person”?
Another trend is in the naming of these churches; notice the upsurge in “assemblies” and “christian centres” and the high reduction in “churches”. These Christian centres and assemblies are probably richer than some state government parastatals and can buy over companies like Cadbury Nigeria and Wema bank. Paul Adefarasin’s House On The Rock, Ituah Ighodalo’s Trinity Household of God, Sam Adeyemi’s Daystar Christian Centre and Biodun Fatoyinbo’s Commonwealth of Zion Assembly all fall into this category. A common feature is the understanding of packaging and the allegation that they visit some unrighteous places for extra-curricular “activities” (but that remains an allegation though).
We’ve covered naming process, must-have features of the pastor and the kind of doctrine (to be) preached. Location is next!.. Churches that start in places like Agbado-Ijaye , Mushin, Apapa and other middle/low class areas of Lagos have only a little chance of making it to limelight. Take the risk and go to places like Ikeja GRA, Lekki, Victoria Garden City (VGC) if you are in Lagos and if you want to start from outside Lagos Port Harcourt and Abuja are the best places. The kind of car the pastor drives also matters and the people in the entourage too. Revd. Biodun Fatoyinbo of COZA understands this perfectly and has worked around it a lot. He drives a Rolls Royce, IN ABUJA and holds services at The Dome (which is very expensive), a visit to any of the COZA branches (Lagos, Abuja and Kwara) will reveal real branding! The finest of girls are the greeters and ushers while the tallest and most handsome dudes are the protocol officers of the pastor, add this to the convoy of beautiful cars and you have a modern day church.
Sweet-talking (or whinning in local parlance) is of utmost importance. The reason?…money must keep flowing.
Having said all these make a few friends in high places, one or two state commissioners will not be bad for a start and have a good social media team that will drop comments as often as possible.
Ironically, Nigeria is just as corrupt as the word itself, bringing to mind the contrast of the town Bethlehem ( birthplace of Jesus and a harbour for high-tech weapons of war) and the idea of so much sin in God’s compound. It is heart breaking that spirituality has been taken for fun , the world has mixed with the word and people like Korede Bello are now invited to “minister” on church podiums. Our ears are now itchy and nobody wants to hear the truth in God’s word, we go for services with BBs and pads and reply messages alongside reading e-Bibles. Sad to say but truth be told, we have deviated from the real meaning of church (which goes beyond physical buildings to heavenly matters) and have upheld the servitude of mammon in our Christian centres.
So many things are wrong, so many people are in the wrong places, so many people are in haste to hear sweet things from people who call themselves preachers and these are some reasons for the booming of church business in my country.
“Finally my brethren, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are honest, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things”.