One of the world’s fastest-spreading churches is the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination started in Nigeria in 1952. If you haven’t heard of them, you will in the coming years. In 2009 Newsweek magazine published a list of the 50 most powerful people in the world. Joining President Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey was the African pastor, Enoch Adeboye, head of this new denomination of 2 million members that has already spread to 110 nations. The Pope was the only other spiritual leader in the list. [at left: General Overseer Enoch Adejare Adeboye, born 1942]
I heard they’re sending missionary church planters to the United States, so I drove to their U.S. headquarters, and met with the head of the church’s operations in North America.
It was a study in contrasts. Their North Texas office is a very simple building in the middle of a sorghum field [see photo at right], accessed by a gravel road in an unincorporated community of about 100 people – none born in Nigeria, according to U.S. census data.
Yet the Director’s vision was limitless. “We must plan for at least 20,000 people to come to our annual North American church convention,” my host, Pastor James Fadele [see photo at right], explained with great enthusiasm. He showed me an architect’s artistic rendering of what will happen “soon” on what turns out to be several hundred acres of adjoining fields that the church has bought. Patterned after the denomination’s home base in Nigeria, the North Texas complex is informally called Redemption Camp and will become a gathering place for camp-style revivals and times of seeking God.
The church takes its purpose straight out of the Bible – to bring the gospel to all nations, taking as many people as possible to heaven. This evangelistic focus is to be unfolded through a simple strategy, according to the North American church’s website: “we will plant churches within five minutes walking distance in every city and town of developing countries and within five minutes of driving distance in every city and town of developing countries.”
That’s a huge undertaking for a country the size and population of the United States. The first U.S. church began in Detroit in 1992 as a house fellowship of 5 people. By 2009 the denomination had 400 U.S. churches with about 15,000 active attenders, most of them Nigerians.
“Did you locate your national office in Texas because it has more Nigerian-born residents than any other state?” I asked my host, having used www.peoplegroups.info to find out that information -- 20,927 according to the 2000 census.
“Our church is for all people,” he responded immediately. He acknowledged that he and the other 4 people besides me in the building during my visit were Nigerian born. Then he affirmed that the church’s goal is to make gradual inroads into the wider culture, moving to other immigrant groups and beyond. “Initially it may be rough,” he said, “but some of our children grew up in America. They have white friends, they have African-American friends, and they have Asian friends. They will come to the church. It’s a matter of time.”
I believe him. The Redeemed Christian Church of God is highly organized worldwide in its church planting strategy and supervision, with this country as no exception. The leaders are passionate about seeing the power of God at work, transforming lives through Jesus Christ. For them, the planting of new churches – ones that in turn reproduce – is the certain pathway to evangelism.
Warren Bird, Ph.D., is Research Director at Leadership Network, and co-author of 21 books on various aspects of church health and innovation.