Pentecostal churches: Managing the burden of growth
By Gbenga Osinaike
One of the leading Pentecostal churches in Nigeria whose growth resonates with the burgeoning zeal of many Nigerians is the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Before now, the Deeper Life Bible Church had experienced the kind of attraction that the RCCG is currently experiencing. That was in the 80s.
In between the explosion of the Deeper Life Church and the RCCG was the brief but remarkable explosion of Zoe Ministry led by Pastor Patrick Anwuzia. The growth of that church was like a fleeting fire. The church, which was known for its acrobatic praying and penchant for spiritual warfare had challenge sustaining the sudden growth it stumbled on.
But there are several other evangelical cum Pentecostal churches that have enjoyed modest growth over the years. The Foursquare Gospel Church may not hit a striking headline, but has maintained its impact in a modest sense. The immediate past General Overseer of the church, Pastor Wilson Badejo brought the church to a notable limelight. Previous General Overseers and Pastor Felix Meduoye who is currently at the driver’s seat of the church have been quite effective too.
The Assemblies of God Church, Christian Pentecostal Mission (CPM), Gospel Faith Mission, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), and a host of others that cannot be mentioned for want of space have maintained a sideway impact. The Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry founded by Pastor Daniel Olukoya and The Living Faith Church a.k.a. Winners Chapel, founded by Bishop David Oyedepo are also incredible Pentecostal forces that have continued to trail the history of the church in Nigeria.
Space will not permit me to talk about the second phase of the new generation churches. These are Pentecostal churches that don’t have national presence but are growing with the speed of a light. They are scattered all over Nigeria. Many of them are riding on the wings of the prophetic ministry. In a matter of years these churches will pull a surprise and may probably take over from the leading Pentecostal churches if those that are currently leading the Pentecostal churches rest on their oars. But I fear that their growth may be “zoe-like”
Anybody who follows the trend of church growth in Nigeria will appreciate that many Christians in Nigeria are nomadic in nature. They move from one church to the other. They move where the miracle is happening or where the churches promote their material and social needs. 80 per cent of those who constitute the membership of the leading Pentecostal churches were those who came from the traditional mainline churches.
Many of the churches that are being celebrated today have evolved through great transitions from their early days till now. Recently, one of them, the RCCG celebrated its 63rd anniversary. I was part of the thousands of people that witnessed the 8-day event. It was one gathering that had all the trappings of spirituality. There were clear indications that lives were transformed. The story of many people no doubt must have changed. A fringe benefit was that it afforded businesses and various human concerns to thrive.
A Challenge I believe currently facing the Pentecostal churches is about managing their expansion. For instance the RCCG has spread to about 180 nations of the world with over 10,000 parishes in Nigeria. The vision of its current leader is to have the church at every five-minute drive interval. The church seems to be achieving that. The church is now competing against itself. In a local area there could be as much as ten parishes of the church.
The implication of this is that these parishes jostle for membership. There are instances of people being disciplined in one RCCG parish but are gladly welcomed in another parish that is in dire need of workers. The RCCG is not alone in this dearth of credible workforce. Many of the growing churches are simply finding it difficult to cope with the influx of people to their fold. The truth is that the growth of the Pentecostal churches in Africa as observed by Scott Carol an American church scholar is wide but not deep.
No doubt many of the churches are big in finance but low in character. They are busy with programmes but low in genuine progress. The yearly budget of a few of the emerging Pentecostal churches will probably dwarf the budget of some countries in Africa. This goes to show that the churches have a lot of work to do in managing their finances. There are times that too much money could make a church misbehave and perhaps engage in bogus projects that are not in tandem with winning souls and impacting the people. Money not well managed could also create a loophole for charlatans.
Beyond this however, Pentecostal pastors wield so much influence over their members. That is why they have to ask for divine wisdom to manage such influence so they will not mislead their members. Pastor Adeboye explained how winning souls can make an individual more influential than somebody who has material wealth using himself as an example. At the last convention he insinuated that Bill Gate does not have the kind of influence he has. He said, “If Bill Gate wants to buy shoes, he has to bring out money and buy. But if I say I want shoes and I announce to my sons and daughters in this gathering, I am sure there will be too many shoes in this auditorium in less than 24 hours.”
No doubt, Pastor Adeboye epitomises the influence Pentecostal church pastors have over their members. But the truth is that aspiring to be successful sometimes could be a child’s play compared to maintaining success. For many of the Pentecostal church leaders, it is time to take stock and look inwards.
The growth of the churches readily comes with a big burden. It comes with the burden of quality control; it comes with the burden of managing their huge capital and human potentials. It comes with the burden of separating the goats from the sheep in the mass of people.
There is no doubt that there are a number of people who are part of these churches for the sake of their stomach. There are many people who suddenly caught the vision of heaven and the pastorate because of what they will eat. There are people who find the church an escapist route where they could throw their burden and get succor. There are also people who are simply satanic agents who simply mix with the crowd to cause havoc. Such people drain the power of God in the church.
But talking seriously, the management of the big churches have come to a point in their evolution that they need to consolidate on the gains of the past years. This is time for cautious expansion. While there is a need to continue to spread the gospel using all available media, the churches should by now engage in the reengineering of the mass of people in their kitty.
The first step in this direction is to begin to look at the quality of people who are pastors in these churches. And this should not be about certificates. While it is important that anybody who aspires to become a pastor should be educated, the churches should not lose sight of men and women who have genuine call but are not lettered. Such people rather than throw them to the backwaters should be properly positioned in the church and trained for purpose of enhancing spiritual growth.
Christianity is not about certificates. It is about the truth. I believe the church should as a matter of urgency revive evangelism in local languages and encourage people who speak indigenous languages and who are called to do God’s work to reach the grassroots. I remember in the early days of Deeper Life Church, there used to be interpreters in many local languages. In those days in Gbagada, Lagos, there were about ten points where people from various tribes listened to the gospel preached in their languages.
Then, it is important that the RCCG for instance look at the various agencies carrying out the policies of the church. From what I see on the RCCG ground, there are too many executive institutions carrying out the same role. The roles seem not to be well defined, thus giving room for instructions and counter instructions. There is also the need for the church to look at the facilities at its disposal and how best they can be managed to cater for the seasonal deluge of people in their programmes.
The sanitation team of the RCCG is doing a great job and must be commended. That the church has been able to survive outbreak of disease at the yearly conventions is a testimony of God’s faithfulness and the commitment of the sanitation team. In Winners Chapel another large Pentecostal church, there are clear indications that the management of the church is in full control. There is order and some high level of sanity in the premises of the church even at major programmes.
The challenge that the RCCG seems to be having has to do with the tent-like nature of its worship ground. Unlike Winners where there is a structured building the RCCG runs an open auditorium system that is subject to abuse and illicit tendencies. The question then is: Will the three kilometre auditorium that is still in the works solve the problem of inadequate conveniences currently experienced in the current auditorium? Will it take care of the traffic gridlock that always lockdown the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway during programmes? Will the audio problem being experienced in the current auditorium be a thing of the past in the new one? Will the new auditorium stop people from using the hall as makeshift accommodation? The questions can go on and on.
For now, it should be appreciated that many of the churches have done well for Nigeria in terms of their engagement with the larger society. Though they enjoy low publicity in this respect, it is worth mentioning that some of the leading churches have contributed immensely to the reengineering of the society. They have intervened in schools, in rehabilitation programmes, in provisions of welfare to people and helping out with certain social problems. But these achievements needed to be managed if the vision of evangelical churches is about sustainable growth.
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