The general catchment is that there is nothing God cannot do…. If you do not have a job, come to god, he will provide a job for you. If you have a job and you are not promoted fast enough, the answer is in church through God’s ministers. If you are poor, come to Jesus, his miracle will make you rich. If you are oppressed, come to his presence, his peace and meekness will provide you with sufficient antidotes to be strong. If you are homeless, he will make you a landlord when you come nearer to him. If you are single, call on His name; he is the husband of the widow and the facilitator of happy homes. “Come on to me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”
The rate of growth of churches in Nigeria is extremely alarming. In every street of Lagos or most of the other south west states, there are, in the very least, 5 churches existing side by side one another. Curiously, no government official nor government policy seem to care about this astronomical growth just as long as the churches continue to perform their roles as opium for the people as the economy bites harder, the government turns the other eyes away from its growth and revenue. In Nigeria alone there is conservative number of over 50,000 churches with denomination outside the well known Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran or Presbyterian. A logical and curious mind will exclaim at this huge number. The surprise will stem from the knowledge that Christianity was a foreign religion to Africa and even where it originated from, there is decrease in church membership and references to God in daily lives are not as strong and it was before. Why so many churches, in a continent that has its own traditional religion.
First, let us narrow down our description of the growth of churches to some employment related development. Some, graduates who are unable to get a job years after graduations soon become self anointed prophets claiming to have been “called by God” to become priests of God in churches. The guy creatively gathers four or five members of his family together and they start a church from inside their sitting rooms. Before too long, they start to command large followership of hundreds of thousands “believers” and then they start to buy off residential houses in the neighborhood to pull down and expand their churches (see Mountain of Fire and Miracles Onike, Yaba Lagos or Christ Embassy, Ikeja Lagos). The pastor places huge speakers on his makeshift assembly halls and screams his religious ranting for several hours not minding the neighbor’s desire for silence and peace. (You are already a sinner for not being in church in the first place.) The worse is when the volunteer and unprofessional choir sings…oh god, they are so loud and deafeningly horrible that you want to cry when you hear them. In most cases, the speakers are bad quality, the microphones are old with terrible feed-backs from the speakers and the worse is only one member of the choir holds microphone and from the distance, only one voice is heard loud and bad-really bad. And where 5 churches make this same noise in one Sunday, or late in the night when you try to sleep, what you then have is holocaust of horrific noises providing excruciating and soul-hurting torture so much that you feel like committing suicide and then it is difficult for the poor non-church goers in the neighborhood to digest. This way it is easy to imagine why some Nigerians are often aggressive, un-calm, attention seeking and loud.
The reasons for the alarming growth of churches in Nigeria are many; and of all these, the economic situation is core. Elsewhere, economic challenges have driven people to creativity and industrial revolution, in Nigeria; it has resulted into increase in church formation, attendance in churches, total obeisance to the things of the “spirits”, dedication to the gospel and mono-directional people(s) “church-home-home- work- church-home”. The Nigerian economic situation is so bad that it will require the intervention of the divine to rescue it from total collapse. Years of mismanagement, corruption, lack of sustainability plans, evidence of incoherent social and economic policy imagination all these have made the Nigeria economy not only a mere failure but a huge catastrophe. Consequently, when an ordinary Nigerian completes his education and he does not come from any of the middle classes (upper middle class; lower middle class or middle-middle class) then his next option is to play on the psyche of his friends and neighbor and starts off a charismatic assembly in the name of a church, turn to God and look up to the heavens for divine creativity. And there have been so many different versions of these types of assembly most of which are carrying funny and silly names that are nothing but comic reliefs in Nigeria’s pathetic daily lives. The appetizing desire for church creation and the success of inspiring collective illusion amongst hundreds of thousand of devotees drove some of the “men of God” to call themselves Jesus the Christ. And they have followers who actually belief they are who they claim to be. Some years ago, one such pastor/man of God called himself “Jesus of Oyingbo” and another “Sat Guru Maharaji”-who founded the “Kingdom of God on earth”. Guru is luckier than Jesus of Oyingbo because he is still living and still controlling his crowd of believers. And so the churches grew and as the economies grew worse, “God evoking missions” multiplies like wide fire and since the money they collect are not taxable, the churches keep growing and people becoming more charismatic and more Christians than the Pope. The general catchment is that there is nothing God cannot do (is there anything too big for god to do?). If you do not have a job, come to god, he will provide a job for you. If you have a job and you are not promoted fast enough, the answer is in church through God’s ministers and priests. If you are poor, come to Jesus, his miracle will make you rich. If you are oppressed, come to his presence, his peace and meekness will provide you with sufficient antidote to be strong. If you are homeless, he will make you a landlord when you come nearer to him. If you are single, call on his name; he is the husband of the widow and the facilitator of happy homes. “Come on to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”
In Nigeria, membership of a church is no longer as easy as a catholic leaving to join Lutheran because they offer better principles; or joining the Anglican because the principles of celebrity is easier. In Nigeria, membership of a church is based on how loud the priest screams when he is preaching, how dramatic he turns the bible as though he was present when the events occurred, how charismatic he is in his presentations of his personal morals and how larger than life his image is on the billboard and on television. To draw patronage and followership, these phonies have had to turn the sacred work of the gospel into a commercial fiesta. All over the Nigerian media, “men of god” are consistently advertising Jesus Christ and advertising miracles and personal invitations to worship in their church centers. Churches are now competing with business groups over who owns the most of billboards on the streets, who buys the most of commercial airtime, and how shares the greatest number of hand bills advertising and seeking membership to church or one form of miracle crusade or the other. The advertised image of Jesus is no longer that meek- inviting-Jew clothed personality; it is now the face of the pastor and his wife smiling in affluence and prosperity. And the church is now so modernized that electronic slide-shows present the gospels to the congregation so they do not have to read the bible themselves. The whole idea is for the congregation to listen and watch the charismatic preacher all the time. These ar
e services made in Hollywood!
Before too long, our unemployed graduate who had looked up to the heavens for inspirations is now, thanks to the size of his congregation and solicited financial membership, in control of the best cars, hires the best staffs who are members of the church and in some cases, he is rich enough to fly first class or has his or her own private jets. Yet the greatest numbers of Nigerians are impoverished.
Lets return to the reason for the growth of churches; the economic reasons. Folks think that because they are from parents without reasonable means, they are nothing and can get nowhere within the scheme of things in Nigeria. And it is true. So, the only one who can listen, the only comforter of the downtrodden, the only healer of wounds, is Jesus. And this was what the gospel offers; that there is nothing impossible for God to do.
For the church to ensure that it maintains the firm grip on the members, they device robotic means of holding members down. For instance an average church calendar looks like this:
• .Sunday 7am: 2pm Regular Sunday service (depending on the size of the church building and the number of congregation, some churches have 4 or more services like this on a Sunday)
• Sunday 6-7pm Sunday evening services/House fellowship (usually held in the homes of a member who will gather others from his district/street/areas together
• Monday 5.30am-6.30am New week services and morning prayer meeting
• Tuesday 5-7pm Bible studies/ Digging deep services
• Wednesday 5-7pm Mid-week services
• Thursday 5- 7pm Prayer meeting
• Friday 10pm-4am Night vigil (prayers all through)
• Saturday 5-7pm choir practice, ushers meeting and preparation for Sunday services
In these schedules, there are no spaces in the week for an unbeliever to fool around. Once you are a member of the church, you are caught in the web. And if you become critical of the system, or decide not to attend one of the programs, then you are considered as “sinful” or “backslidden” and a special group of people will be designated to follow up with you and bring you back to the fold. Before too long, you will be encouraged to return to the regular schedules.
How the church makes money is also an interesting thing. At every of the above quoted meetings, there are money collections. A special dustbin bowl is used to collect money from every worshipper who visits. The trick with the dustbin is that your neighbor in church is able to see what you offer and conclude on how much you love God by the size of your offering. If you love God, then you must offer your fattest money into the dustbin.
And then every salary earning member is expected to come to church with his or her tithe (10% of every salary earned). If you do not give the tithe, the church announcer will inform everyone that “you have robbed God His entitlement”. And everything can be justified with bible quotations.
The church does not invest these offering collections of 10% into church building projects nor go to the bank to raise equity. No, they push building funds to the congregation to finance. There are collections for building projects. A faithful, lover of God must give generously to the building of the house of God.
The first Sunday of the month is reserved as a thanks giving Sunday. Devotees are expected to dress gorgeously to church and dance “like David in the bible” danced. And as you danced to the front of the altar, you are to put a special “Thanks Giving Offering” into the dustbin for God.
In all these, a working class member is left almost with nothing. But please do not worry. There are always words in the bible that comforts every situation: “God will supply all your needs according to his riches in Glory”. The working class members have end of the month to use as back up for resource mobilization but our jobless graduate is not made better but worse off. He has come to church for the prayers to get a job, instead, he had to give so many offering that makes another jobless graduate a better man and a millionaire of God’s Gospel.
It is so true, and indeed, there is nothing is too difficult for God to do.