When Pastor E.A. Adeboye stepped into the sanctuary at Dominion Chapel in Stafford, the congregation shook with loudening praise music, waving hands and applause. The 1,000 or so worshipers dropped to their knees and joined the Nigerian Pentecostal leader in prayer, spoken in a calm but confident tone, promising blessings to them. They listened to Adeboye's message, punctuated with hearty rounds of "Amen!" and "Yes, Lord!" And when he left, they lined up to sit in the chair where he sat or to lie on the ground where he preached. Adeboye is the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which numbers as many as 7 million followers in Africa.
His church has seen rapid growth across continents, with Texas home to its highest concentration of churches in the U.S. The Redeemed Church has 30 congregations in Houston, and new ones are being planted year after year. Its swelling numbers are no surprise to American members: They're a fulfillment of prophecy. The church has the ambitious calling to bring at least one member of every family on Earth to Christ and to start enough churches that no one on the globe would ever be more than five minutes away.
If that sounds like it would take a miracle, that's about right. This is a church that believes in miracles and trusts that Nigeria, and now Houston, will take a major role in spreading God's glory. "God has a plan for the nation of Nigeria, and God has a plan for us," said Pastor Georgy MacInnis, her eyes closed in prayer. "It is not a mistake that you have put us in Stafford." American Pentecostal preachers support the mission in Africa. Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter's House in Dallas, who traces his ancestry back to Nigeria, spoke of his "great hope" for the country while visiting Adeboye's church.
Pentecostalism has swept across Africa in the past several decades, with more than 147 million adherents, about 17 percent of the continent's population, according to the World Christian Database. In Nigeria, the nearly 60-year-old Redeemed Christian Church of God draws converts from Islam and Anglican churches, and Adeboye has national clout as a religious leader.
He regularly offers commentary on national issues and consults with political leaders. His monthly gatherings pack in hundreds of thousands of spirit-filled followers to listen to a message of living holy lives before God, said David Daniels, a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. But Adeboye's church is no "Nigerian church." It's a church that began in Nigeria but has its eyes on the world. As Nigeria's elite move to the U.S. for education and jobs, many of them have settled in Houston, where the hot climate and oil industry remind them of home, said Michael Oyedeji, who moved to the area with an early wave of immigrants in 1979.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 13,000 Nigerians live in Harris County, but local leaders with the Nigerian Foundation say the area could be home to between 50,000 and 100,000 Nigerian adults. Dominion Chapel in Stafford is already one of the church's largest buildings and broke ground Sunday to double its size. The church's North American headquarters are in Greenville, an hour northeast of Dallas.
Though most members are Nigerians, they reach out to all people and don't maintain outward cultural ties to their African roots. Some women dress in traditional outfits, with flared skirts and colorful headpieces, and nearly everyone who takes the microphone speaks with an accent. But the worship style and message from the pulpit are typical for a Pentecostal church in the U.S., loud call-and-response songs, Bible-based preaching, belief in spiritual healing and an emphasis on right behavior and holiness.
The lack of cultural distinctives — no Nigerian rituals or ethnic songs - has helped the church grow across the globe, in America and its newest mission field, Belize. "Paul said, 'I will be Greek to the Greek and Jew to the Jew,'?" said Nimi Wariboko, a Redeemed Church pastor and scholar on Pentecostalism at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. "You don't want the culture with this view of being black to be an obstacle."
The church's deliberate focus on church planting is tied to its organizational structure and the leadership of Adeboye, or "Daddy G.O." - the G.O. stands for General Overseer - seen as a prophet and high priest. "He seems to be very humble. He doesn't say, 'I'm big, I have so many followers,' even though he does. He's got the management style to hold this thing together," Wariboko said. The church organizes itself in zones and parishes, appointing leaders to head up evangelism efforts and plan programming to serve their neighborhoods.
The goal is to have lots of local churches, rather than the megachurch structure Houston is known for. Daddy G.O. is at the top, of course, and travels to Europe, South America and North America to ordain new leaders and connect with church members. He visits the U.S. twice a year, and when he comes to Houston, he's both a distinguished guest and old friend.
Adeboye and his wife, Foluke, are greeted with bows and s it on padded chairs on the side of the pulpit. "His presence here today is amazing. We will be receiving blessings for years to come," said A yodele Fasakin, a pastor at Sunday's service at Dominion Chapel. "In Nigeria, you can't even get close, but here you are just a few feet away." Fasakin, like almost everyone in the congregation, has a story about a miracle attributed to Adeboye's blessings; they talk about illnesses healed, debts canceled and spiritual lives renewed. When Adeboye takes the microphone to preach, he sounds more personable than powerful. He compliments the choir, and the women, dressed in white with purple and teal flower broaches, cheer.
He pauses to tell short jokes and chuckles along with the crowd. His sermon includes anecdotes from his childhood and his family. It does feel like you're listening to Daddy, especially with his gentle admonishments and warnings against turning from God. "If you are living a life of sin, you better change your mind very quickly so that the God who has blessed you this far cannot reverse his blessing," he told them, "because nothing annoys God other than sin." Before Adeboye took the church's head position as General Overseer, he was a university math professor, and many of Redeemed's pastors work as both clergy and professionals.
Nigerians are the most-educated ethnic group in America, Census data shows, and the Redeemed Church encourages members to get advanced degrees, even offering its own university system. Lexuses and BMWs line the parking lot at Dominion Chapel in Stafford, evidence of the doctors, professors, architects and businessmen in the congregation. The church uses their success for ministry.
An architect in the congregation, Lee Olawale, will be designing the expansion that will double the size of the church's building. Physicians consult with church members and community members during "Ask-a-Doc" sessions twice a month, and businessmen give generously so the church can afford to conduct outreach, such as donating hundreds of Thanksgiving turkeys to needy families or traveling downtown to offer church services to the homeless.
The outreach has been their strongest evangelism tool, church members say, and they hope more neighbors, regardless of ethnicity, will join their mission. Until now, immigration patterns have been a major factor in growth for the Redeemed Christian Church of God, said Daniels, a world Christianity scholar. He expects the African Pentecostal movement to maintain momentum for at least the next 25 to 50 years. "These immigrant congregations will shape the future of Pentecostalism," Daniels said, noting that the U.S. Catholic Church and other bodies are also seeing groups such as Hispanics fill their pews. "The immigrant church is going to shape U.S. Christianity.
|Pastor Enoch Adeboye preaches to the
congregation at the Redeemed Christian
Church of God.
||Ayinke Ogunbode, center, prays during a
service at Dominion Chapel in Stafford.
The city is home to one of the largest
concentrations of Nigerians in the U.S.,
a group that's increasingly affiliated with