Churches are originally established to attend to people’s needs, especially spiritual, but things seem to have changed. EJIRO AWHANA looks at the other reasons for the proliferation of churches in Nigeria
Statistics show that there are over a million churches in Nigeria. While some are pluralised, others are lone-rangers. Nigeria, with its over 80 million Christians, has seen unprecedented proliferation of churches in the last two decades.
Some large new generation churches in recent times have begun aggressive campaigns to plant a branch in every nook and corner of the nation. One of them plans to plant a branch two minutes walk from another.
Churches as religious institutions
Hundreds of churches are opened each year in Nigeria. This increase is due more to pecuniary reasons than the spiritual well-being of the people.
Social critic and academic, Dr Gbenga Oyenusi, attributed the proliferation to the increasing need for man to connect with the Creator.
Oyenusi described the trend as a sign of significant spiritual re-awakening. He pointed out that ever since the Pentecostal revival in Nigeria in the late 1970s, there had been more and more churches, with each new brand proclaiming a peculiar message.
Many unemployed Nigerians, both educated and non-educated, have discovered another source of living in the establishment of churches. Tune to many television or radio stations on Sunday morning, you would be served different kinds of ‘impossible grammar’ and disjointed English expressions by preachers of different hues. You would be convinced that many of them were not called by the owner of the farm, who said that the harvest is rich but labourers few. Actually, as some people would argue, it was either that they called themselves to ministry or their stomachs and greed did. And they answered after a three-month crash programme in a Bible institute.
However, Onyenusi was uncomfortable with the development, due to the “charlatan proclivities” of some of the ‘pastors’. This set, according to him, should have no business on the pulpit.
Many of the churches are established as business ventures, as the proprietors have their eyes on the offerings and tithes from the congregation. Some of them, hence, preach prosperity to the detriment of holiness.
A Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Lagos, Francis Falako, stated that many of the so-called men of God exploit the people’s vulnerability and faith in a supreme being.
According to him, these pastors, in the pretext of being led by the Holy Spirit, latch onto the gullibility of the people and exploit them.
“Many of the ‘men of God’ that pastor these new churches are in it totally for (material) gain. They latch onto the gullibility of the people and exploit them to the fullest,” he said.
The media platforms are replete with absurd tales of the exploits of these preachers; their sexcapades, especially with under-age children, and fraud. Recently, a former Super Eagles of Nigeria player was swindled of a whopping N1bn by his pastor.
Lagos-based psychologist, Jombo Preye, has described the antics of these preachers as a pathetic case. He lacked words to describe their hypnotic power over their followers.
“They hold sway over their members in ways that cannot be fathomed, and the followers obey their every word and do their bidding,” he lamented.
Preye explained that the financial reward that attends the entire church operation made it a viable enterprise.
“The more absurd the doctrine, the higher the followers. Unlike the traditional churches that have been in existence for ages, these new Pentecostal churches are uncanny in their doctrines and practices. They come up with weird beliefs and practices and the people follow them all the same,” he explained.
In a recent survey by Business Insider, 95 per cent of Nigerians pray daily. So, the church entrepreneurs capitalise on the religiousity of Nigerians to hoodwink them.
Government to the rescue
The economic instability, security challenges and unrest, infrastructural deficit and a host of other factors help these fraudsters in cassock.
There have been calls in recent times for government to put a check on the activities of some of these churches, and hold them to account for their unwholesome acts.
However, due to the menace of the new ‘gospellers’, some genuine clerics would welcome the regulation of churches by government.
A Roman Catholic priest, Fr Okon Dickens, said, “It is the responsibility of government to put checks in place. There is a limit to what the Christian Association of Nigeria can do. There are so many uneducated pastors out there that run churches.”
He called for a semblance of order in the house of God.
“We cannot afford to have just anybody pastoring a church. The Muhammadu Buhari-led government can do what Paul Kagame did in Rwanda and set a basic standard for all churches and ministries in the country. This way, there will be a limit to all those fake pastors that rob the people and desecrate the entire body of Christ,” he added.
The predominance of churches has been attributed to the ability of the churches to generate revenue from their members; hence the urge to establish more branches at every opportunity.Warehouses, residential apartments, and even strip clubs, have been turned to worship places. The ‘churchpreneurs’ are willing to pay any rent, so the landlords are tempted to give out any available space without question.
While it cannot be disputed that many churches are truly proclaiming the word and teaching the tenets of Christianity to its members, the stiff competition between churches to gain more followers and patronage is uncanny.