1.1. There have been three major recorded church growth in Nigeria starting with the one that occurred from the mid 19th century on the coast through the classical denominational missions. The second occurred during the first half of the 20th century through interdenominational faith missions in the Middle Belt; the mission related Pentecostal churches and the early African initiated churches (AICS). The third wave of growth began in the early 1970s following the Nigerian Civil War, through indigenous denominations influenced by the Charismatic Movement. West Pentecostal groups arrived in Nigeria during the 1930s. The Apostolic Faith was the first Pentecostal denomination with global links to take root in Nigeria on the invitation from members of Faith Tabernacle.
1.2. The Modern Pentecostal or Charismatic movement is one of the most significant developments in recent history of Christianity in Nigeria, thus transforming the ways in which Christianity as a whole relates to traditional African culture which helps to define Nigerians responses to modernity. The rise of Modern Pentecostalism, the movement of renewal within the established Christian churches among the Igbo in Eastern Nigeria is a case in point. There is no doubt that Pentecostalism represents the fastest-growing sector of Nigeria Christianity today, though the growth of Pentecostalism is not limited to Nigeria but the new wave is global and has swept across Africa since independence.
2. The Impetus that gave rise to the upsurge of Christianity in Nigeria
2.1. Following the outbreak of the civil war in Eastern Nigeria in 1967, after the military coups of January and July, 1966 in which some military officers and civilians of Igbo extraction were killed in July 1966 coup in retaliation for the politicians and military officers of Yoruba and Hausa extractions killed in January, 1966 coup, resulted in mass exodus of Igbos from the North and other parts of Nigeria to Eastern Nigeria.
2.2. During the conflict and depravation, revival occurred which transformed the local religious landscape and generated a fresh wave of indigenous Pentecostalism through the agency of Scripture Union, an organization which promotes Christianity among young people through Bible Study, literature and evangelism especially in Secondary Schools and Universities. During the civil war the Scripture Union became an umbrella Christian body and rallying point for youths following closure of schools. As Igbo urban centres were overran by Federal troops, the revival triggered off by the Scripture Union movement shifted to the rural areas. At the end of the civil war, the youths moved to the cities in search of job which were not available and so they continued with the wave of revival in groups and in churches preaching the gospel on full time.
2.3. In the words of Richard Burgess, the author of Nigeria’s Christian Revolution: “Since 1960s, Nigeria has experienced a religious revolution as a result of this Pentecostal impulse, which has its roots in an evangelical revival associated with Scripture Union and the University campuses at the end of Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). It has generated proliferation denominations, which together represent the dominant expression of Nigerian Christianity”.
The Scripture Union had root in Western Nigeria where it played a tremendous role and ignited revival among the youths in Secondary Schools and Universities during the same period as Eastern Nigeria but it was not as profound. The reason is obvious, the war situation which brought about the concentration of youths, depravation, hunger, sicknesses etc heightens people’s faith in God. After all necessity is the mother of invention; the youths in the East rekindled the people’s hope in God, the only hope of mankind.
2.4. In 1930, Apostle Joseph Babalola – a bulldozer operator was called by God into the ministry who became the founder of the Christ Apostolic Church, a Pentecostal Movement. Between 1930 and 1959 when he died, the church had become a mass movement in Western Nigeria and had spread to the East and Ghana. The new wave revival in the West where the church had mass following was accentuated by healing, miracles, signs and wonders. The church had spread fast in the last forty years to nooks and crannies of Nigeria and overseas.
2.5. The New Life For All, a movement organized by Pentecostals and Evangelical churches in the 60s as a strategy of preaching the gospel and winning souls was particularly successful in the North among Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) and Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) which led to a great revival in the North and planting of many churches.
Consequently, Nigeria has become one of the foremost missionary sending nations of the world; two of the three largest churches in Europe today are planted by Nigerian missionaries while Nigerian-based Pentecostal denominations are also establishing churches across Africa, Europe and the United States of America. The largest churches in some African countries such as; Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe are led by Nigerians. Some of the Nigerian-based Pentecostal denominations have churches ranging from 2,000 – 6,000 parishes in between ten and fifty nations.
2.6. Nigerian Christian identity has been on the ascending since independence in 1960 because Nigerians in particular and Africans in general have rejected the Western value-setting of the Christian faith.
Africans could not reconcile oppressions under slavery and imperialist colonial rules with Christian principles of equality (equity) before God. The oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) backed by the Western world and the struggle for independence by former Southern and Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia respectively) Nyasaland now Malawi who have to employ arms struggles using gorilla tactics further cast doubt on Western value of Christianity. The Western mode of worship was becoming unacceptable to Nigerians who wanted to express themselves in drumming, clapping of hands and singing choruses instead of relying on hymn books.
2.7. Gradually, the mode of worship was modified to accommodate drumming, clapping of hands, singing in the native language and dancing. Sooner, the mainline churches followed the Evangelicals/Pentecostals when they were losing members to these churches which were seen by the youths as more vibrant. The mainline churches also modified their mode of worship and stopped reading prayers from the prayer book, they introduced fire brand prayer as the Pentecostals.
After independence, the mainline churches such as the Anglican and the Methodist operated independently of what use to be their headquarters in England. This autonomy enables them to introduce radical changes in terms of worship reform and administration. They ceased to be subservient to any foreign domination even in terms of policy and administration. For example, the Anglican Communion and Methodist of Nigeria, recently opposed the ordination of Homosexuals as Priests. In the Methodist, the African Priests are now in majority, and with their votes they could over-rule any untoward policy brought into the World Congress of the church.
According to Richard Burgess; “the pursuit of a genuinely African Christian identity shifted in the late 1960s to the search for African initiatives. While the over-whelming focus was on the African initiated churches (AICS), there were a number of studies on revival movements within the mainline churches, which explored issues such as local agencies, global influences and the interaction between gospel and culture… The 1980s saw a renewed interest in the history and experience of the mission founded churches…. and more recently a shift has occurred from institutions to movements defined as ‘widespread and grassroots adherence to religious ideas, symbols and rituals, sometimes brief in duration, sometimes long-lasting; sometimes lacking and sometimes acquiring formal organizational structures’; and includes AICS and revivals within this spectrum”.
3. The Strengths of Nigerian Churches
3.1. No doubt, in the last 40years the world generally has witnessed aggressive evangelistic activity, innovation, mission initiatives and rapid church growth. Though the gospel has not reached many nations especially 10/40 window covering West Africa through Japan and China. Since the early 70s there has been a phenomenal growth in Missions, church planting, literature evangelism, Radio and TV ministries in Nigeria. The door of the gospel are opened to hitherto no-go-area of communist area especially Russia where Bible were previously smuggled. With the collapse of communism the Word of God is now openly preached since it is the desire of the Lord that everybody in every nation should hear the gospel (Luke 24:47). Sunday Adelaja, a Nigerian Pastor has the largest church in Ukraine. Though in the last days there will be large apostacy (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:3) but the Lord will save more souls.
3.2. In the last 40years there had been astronomical growth in the establishment of independent churches and denominations.
In the last ten years, denominations are springing up on weekly basis especially in the urban centres such as Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Owerri etc. These denominations are of various shapes and forms, operating from one room apartments or sheds. Apart from advanced technology and increased knowledge, the Lord is equipping and anointing the church for a final aggressive warfare and evangelism (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:49). We are living in the time of “latter rain” which Joel spoke about in Joel 2:23.
3.3. The printing, translation and distribution of the Bible has contributed in no small measure to the growth of the church in Nigeria in the last forty years. The translation of the Bible in Nigerian languages has added a great impetus to reading of the Bible in mother tongues by people who did not go to school.
3.4. The Bible Society of Nigeria (BSN) was established in 1966 an affiliate of a world body – United Bible Societies. BSN has translated the Bible into 19 Nigerian languages while they are presently working on other 9. They also publish Bibles, New Testament, portions and selections in English and local languages. BSN also distribute the scriptures to every nook and cranny of Nigeria through her wide area network and depots located in all the six zones of Nigeria. BSN is the world 2nd largest distributor of the Bible next to the US. BSN is also involved in other programmes such as Faith Comes by Hearing – Bible Audio Cassettes, Reaching the unreached programmes, Braille Scriptures for the visually impaired people (VIP) and HIV/AIDS.
3.5. Another indigenous organization, Nigeria Bible Translation Trust based in Jos, Plateau State was established in 1976. Among other things, they send missionaries to people that do not have the scriptures in their mother tongues; prepare literacy materials and books in Nigerian languages; teach people to read and write in their mother tongue; translate the word of God for the people, using mother tongue speakers as Translators; train people in the necessary technical skills. To date, NBTT has translated the New Testament into seven Nigerian languages while work is in progress in another 20 languages. By combined efforts of translations by churches and other agencies, the complete Bible are today available in 19 Nigerian languages, New Testament in 48 languages while translations are in progress in 17 languages in Old Testament and 31 languages in New Testament.
3.6. Overall, Nigeria has made great strides in spreading the gospel through planting of churches, evangelizing through literatures, distribution of the Bible and sending out missionaries to many parts of the world. Calvary Ministries (CAPRO) which was established by Youth Corpers in 1975 has established mission fields in over 40 countries in Africa. Highly educated youths have since joined the train of missionaries that moved out of the country to serve in different terrains of Arab world, such as Sudan and Libya where Islam is the only recognized State religion. They are fully committed to the course of preaching the gospel without salary, yet they risk their lives, abandoned their lucrative jobs and career opportunities just like the missionaries from Europe and America who came to evangelize Africa in the 19th century. The old order is now yielding place for the new as Nigerian nay African missionaries have been in the up-swing in evangelizing the other continents.
4. The Weaknesses of the Church
4.1. However, the archiles hills of evangelism in Nigeria can be summarized by the statement credited to Phineas Dube that “churches in Africa are one mile wide and one inch deep”. This statement is apt and summarizes the state of Nigerian churches today. Though churches are spreading like harmattan fire but the quality of the churches in terms of Christ-like leadership, lack of basic understanding of the doctrines and authority of the Bible, the negative spiritual lives of church members and how they affect their environment and the lack of impact of the church on political leaders and the social lives generally are big question marks on the growth of the church in Nigeria which we have already highlighted above.
4.2.1. The emerging church leaders in the last forty years could be categorized into four:
4.2.2. The first group are well trained church leaders called into the ministry, they are men of integrity who live by the word and preach holiness. But some of these churches have over-grown and with poor discipleship, most of the members are immature and carnal. They are more of liabilities than assets to their denominations. The situation has not been helped by the bloated population of the churches; there is shortage of Pastors hence half-baked and Part-time Pastors who have little or no time are recruited as Pastors. The fruit is a product of the seed, evil seed cannot produce good fruit. Some of these Pastors are only Pastors in name in their offices where they are bad influences because they are not credible. Having spent most of their time in their offices they have time to grow their parishes spiritually. But the leaders at the top have no solution over these lapses because of the outgrown expansion in terms of population with immature members.
4.2.3. The second category are those which are doctrinal deficient. The churches specialize on some doctrines such as (1) violent prayer (2) prosperity preaching (3) divine healing (4) speaking in tongue with the result that there is no balance teaching and discipleship. Such churches are many and their members migrate from one denomination to another depending on their areas of felt-needs. The members are not grounded in the Word of God and they are like chaff on the river that is being tossed by the storm. Most of the leaders of these churches are only interested in high population and the finance generated every Sunday. These churches are compromised to achieve the selfish objectives of their leaders, instead of developing the spiritual lives of the members.
4.2.4. The third category are church leaders who are not called by God. They are ill-equipped to lead the church of God, they have little or no theological training while some of them have good education and manifest some gifts of preaching, teaching and or word of knowledge. In order to realize their personal greed, they resign from their churches to establish independent churches which have no focus other than to amass wealth and promote their ego. They use any foul means such as demonic power to fake miracles to draw attention to themselves. They use the name of Jesus to fake miracles and people gather around them. They exploit the people to get money, cars and other material things. The gullible members are satisfied with the temporary relieves that come their way, because they are not in the church in the first instance to serve the Lord so they remain in their sin and when they get bored or dissatisfied, they leave the church or look for another church.
4.2.5. The fourth group are those who stand on the truth, they preach new birth, holiness, Christian maturity and disciple their members. The leaders are credible and full of Holy Spirit, they are working diligently to produce heavenly bound Christians. They are not motivated by filthy lucre.
- 5. Changes that can benefit the Church
In order to bring sanity to the church in Nigeria, there should be a surgical operation to remove the sore points, which include:
5.1. Regulation of the establishment of new churches by strict adherence to Registration of Religious bodies under the Corporate Affairs Commission Abuja, while the appropriate body under the Christian Association of Nigeria i.e. the body under which the new established Ministry falls i.e. Pentecostal, evangelical, Catholic secretariat or Anglican/ Methodist (Christian Council in Nigeria or African United Churches) should monitor the new ministry. The present chaotic situation where anybody can wake-up in the morning and establish a church in his room and call himself General Overseer must be discarded. It is not done anywhere in the world expect Nigeria hence we have more denominations and independent churches in Nigeria more than all the nations of the world.
5.2. The same regulation should be extended to the establishment of Bible Schools because most of the Bible Schools in Nigeria have no library, qualified teachers and standard curriculum yet they award spurious diplomas and degrees. Graduates from such schools become hazards to the church and society.
5.3. All faithful ministers need to pray fervently individually and corporately in their churches for God to expose those misleading people by faking miracles and to liberate their ‘hostages’ through the light of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to pray for revival in the church in this end time.
5.4. The church need to preach and teach balance messages, heretic teachings should be banned on Radio and Television. In order to enforce this, every church must be affiliated to one of the five groups recognized by Christian Association of Nigeria as listed above. The balance teaching in all the churches should include; new birth, growing in Christ, holiness, second coming, discipleship, indwelling power of the Holy Spirit etc.
5.5. For the church to make impact on the society, the members should be properly discipled and nurtured to maturity so that they can see themselves as true disciples and ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) regardless of their status in life or where the work: Legislators, Governors, Political office holders like Joseph and Daniel or Managing Directors and Chief Executives.
5.6. Church leaders should live by example in utterances, holiness, dressing, they should stop all forms of ostentatious living because practice is better than precept. They should hold themselves accountable to the church and God (1 Cor. 4:2; 2 Cor. 5:10). They should keep accurate records of account and all other transactions of the church.
5.7. The church should come together through Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Nigeria Evangelical Fellowship and the other groupings under (CAN) to evangelize Nigeria and send out missionaries to other nations to fulfill the divine mandate at this end time. United action will produce more result than the present dissipation of energy and resources.
5.8. Church leaders should be able to call their erring and corrupt members who are public officers to order to achieve high level of accountability in public office and make impact on the society. This is the minimum that God requires from the church.
The Church in Nigeria has everything going for her to make impact and be an agent of change and engine for missionary outreach at this end-time according to divine plan. This is the time to sit right and do the correct thing so that God can move through her in the impending end-time revival. This is our chance.