One of the greatest commodities in Nigeria is religion. Religious practice in Nigeria is just as varied and diverse as the population, creating a complex and fascinating situation that arises from its “triple heritage” of indigenous religions; Islam, Christianity and the traditional.
The Christian religion in Nigeria can be traced back to the 15th century, when the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive the shores of the region via the Atlantic. The Portuguese brought Christianity with them but were unable to successfully plant Christianity because of their involvement in slave trade. Then in the 17th century, attempts were made again to establish Christianity in the region through Roman Catholic missionaries.
Though it was difficult from the start to win the hearts of the kings and traditional rulers because they were more interested in the guns and mirrors the Europeans had brought with them to do trade, and barely showed interest in the new religion being introduced to them.
Over time, people started accepting Christianity and it started growing. Churches were established in places where the religion was approved and the growth continued non-stop. Today, there’s hardly a community, village, town or region where the gospel hasn’t been preached in Nigeria. Christians in Nigeria comprise an estimated 40% of the population.
They are more dominant in the southern (south-east/south-south) and central region in Nigeria. According to the Pew Research Center, Nigeria has the largest Christian population of any country in Africa, with more than 80 million persons in Nigeria belonging to the church with various denominations.
In Nigeria these days, the more churches grow in membership, the richer the pastors get. Churches are now expanding so fast that it has now become a competition. Every church wants to have the highest number of members and own the biggest auditorium, that’s why we find most of these big churches now building large capacity auditoriums.
There’s so much competition in Christendom today and every denomination is striving to win people’s hearts and convert them to become members of their church and as it seems, there are no more people to convert as almost every Christian or convert already belongs to one denomination or the other, so pastors decided to spread their tentacles abroad by establishing branches of their churches in the US and other European countries, especially in the United Kingdom. This is also in a bid to gain popularity both locally and internationally.
Ironically, it was the Europeans who brought religion to Nigeria and Africa as a whole, and now the same Africans whom religion (Christianity) was introduced to are taking the religion back to Europeans and even establishing churches in their countries. As a matter of fact, they have taken the church growth competition abroad and every Nigerian owned or established church abroad is seriously striving to gain more members and become the biggest church abroad as well.
The rate of church growth in the United Kingdom is becoming very massive and most of the churches are owned and established by Nigerians. Surprisingly, the white garment churches are beginning to take over London as they are seen everywhere. Before now, it was only the pentecostal churches that were well known abroad, but now white garment churches like Cherubim and Seraphim church, the Celestial Church of Christ, Aladura and the likes have become well known and are found almost on every street in London.
These white garment churches are making waves in London because their mode of dressing and worship is totally strange to the whites. The British and other Europeans get fascinated when they see them all dressed in white, and for those attending the celestial church, they are seen walking barefooted on the streets in their white garments. Some of them even go to the riverside to pray and and are also seen bathing in the sea as a form of spiritual cleansing. When the whites see such things, some of them pick interest and decide to join the white garment churches in order to also experience such modes of worship. The white garment churches in a way added to the religion the whites brought to Africa and took it back to them.
Another reason for establishing churches abroad is to make Nigerians over there feel at home and comfortable and also not feel reluctant to go to church in a strange land. Church services are ensured to be conducted abroad the same way they are conducted in Nigeria so the people in diaspora can have a feel of home and not forget the Nigerian modes of church services. Some of the churches, especially the white garment churches even sing and preach in their local dialects like Yoruba so the original heritage is not lost. With this, Nigerians in diaspora don’t need to start looking for new churches and along the line forgot the old or traditional ways of worship.
In conclusion, taking the white garment churches to the UK is a strategy to win the hearts and membership of the whites and also a strategy of most Nigerian pastors to make more money as they are no longer satisfied with the money they make back in their local churches in Nigeria.
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