FLOYD, TEXAS —
The Redeemed Christian Church of God was founded in 1952 in Nigeria. It had no U.S. presence a few decades ago, but has since planted hundreds of churches across the country. It now aims to harness the explosive growth of African Christianity in re-evangelizing a country where surveys show that one in five people don’t belong to any faith. A visit to the church’s newly expanded headquarters in northern Texas shows what is in the works.
In this bucolic setting in Floyd, Texas, the Redeemed Christian Church of God recently opened its $15-million North American Redemption Camp.
A recent gathering here featured spirituals and fervent prayer.
It also featured the church’s worldwide leader, Enoch Adeboye. “In Jesus’ mighty name we have prayed! “Amen!” he said.
His appearance was part of a U.S. tour that began at a rented megachurch in Maryland. His disciples consider him a prophet, despite the former mathematics professor’s almost phlegmatic demeanor.
“Don’t be surprised if tomorrow you have a test on what you have learned today,” he said playfully to laughter.
His lesson was on how to win converts for this intensely energetic Pentecostal movement.
Pastor James Fadele is the North American director, also based in Texas. He said the headquarters are not finished and will be expanded outward to ultimately seat one million people.
Fadele argued that if large rallies can be held in America over issues like civil rights… “Why can’t we gather one million people overnight just to worship God, to praise God, and just be ecstatic and just worship and dance. It’s going to come to pass, mark it down.”
The U.S. has many imported religions. But this one could be influential. A Rice University study found that Nigerians are the most highly educated people in the country.
Fadele concedes there’s a cultural obstacle. “Right now when I speak, people say I have an accent. Some other people that come to church say, 'You know what? We are straining our ears to understand you.'”
There are few non-Africans here and only one white couple.
But Matt Patterson believes American Christianity has lost its evangelical fervor. "Jesus said to go out and preach the Gospel, not just certain groups, not just people they’re comfortable talking to, but he said to go out and tell everyone. And that’s exactly what this church does.”
As night falls, the supplications become more intense.
The West may have brought Christianity to Africa, but this African church believes it has a mission from God to re-Christianize societies that it sees as too secular and Godless.
Could African religion appeal to Americans who increasingly are shunning their own spiritual roots?
Nigerian-born religion professor Kola Abimbola said the church has “huge prospects.”
Why? Because he says it takes the Christian belief in God and angels…
“And then they believe in evil forces which go beyond that which is contained in the bible,” said Abimbola.
Abimbola, who also is a Yoruba priest, said traditional African religions view multiple sources of evil at work in everyday life.
“It definitely appeals to people who are not Nigerian, people who believe that religion might make an important contribution to navigate this complex terrain we call the world,” he said.
“Wave your handkerchiefs and make the devil mad!” exclaimed Adeboye.
Making the devil mad makes these believers want to dance. But it’s far from clear how many Americans will make a cultural shift and find meaning in this rapidly growing African style of Christianity.