HOW THE MOST FOOLISH MOVE IN CHURCH GROWTH HISTORY BECAME ONE OF THE WISEST
By Leke Beecroft
This morning exactly 22 years ago, many roads moved from Lagos to Ota to attend the first and only Shiloh ever held in September themed ‘Encounter With Destiny’. Many had thought the dedication would not take place as the roof of the Tabernacle was 5 weeks behind schedule and Bishop Oyedepo on return from Kano had declared 2 MONTHS TOO MUCH to the consternation and amazement of many. The roads were rough on that day as some still are today with very heavy traffic as we trudged through Ota which was closer to a village than it is now.
Only one relatively new newspaper carried the news and also on its front page. Other newspapers simply ignored as it didn’t seem notable enough to capture one largely unknown event in Ota. The trip and the event to Ota was about to cause a shaking in Christendom as it is today. Bishop Mike Okonkwo then President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria gave the message while Bishop Oyedepo took the dedication and anointing proper. Listed as the 13th single largest church in the world as at that time, it is now the largest single weekly congregation in the world.
What else did this move signify?
Please read on….
“AT THE BASE OF THIS MINISTRY THERE WILL BE A ‘TENT’ THAT WILL SIT 50,000”!
Prophecy of 10th April 1982 as declared by Brother David Oyedepo and written by Brother Joseph Ebhohimen
*Remembering the Exodus to Canaanland
In ‘3 Easy Ways To Grow Your Church’ by Lena Kelly, ‘Accessibility to worshippers’ was named as a most strategic factor. Also, according to the Church of England in her journal, ‘Shaping Strategies for mission and growth in rural multi-church groups’ “The geographical location of the church parish has a significant impact on growth or decline…”
The Iyana Ipaja road was bursting to the seams during 5 morning services every Sunday and 2 evening services each on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The junction leading to Ipaja through Gowon Estate up to ‘Winners’ bus stop’ and down to Olorun Adaba bus stop all the way to Egbeda was worst hit. This is coupled with the fact that Lagos, Nigeria is already unique for heavy traffic. The Church which bought over a few brothels along Raji Oba road had grown strong over the few years since it was established in Lagos with 300 people in July 1989 and was slowly becoming a public nuisance. This was despite the building of a 3,000 capacity auditorium as well as a L Shaped structure and special canopies from South Africa that could take up 7,000 more people at once. The brothels had disappeared, however, new businesses of all kinds had filled the area, Bible sellers, other Christian literature and tapes as well as refreshments of all kinds. Church Gist. notable popcorn vendor and university graduate had testified in the church how his popcorn business had thrived during services until he bought a new car. During services, gutters and rooftop of adjoining houses were filled with worshippers. In the event of an emergency or any incident that would require immediate evacuation, the consequences would be catastrophic. A move out of this area by Winners’ Chapel had become of utmost necessity.
Shortly before the dedication of the new Winners’ facility on 30th December 1995 by Archbishop Benson Idahosa, the Presiding Bishop, Dr David Oyedepo revealed that God had spoken to him on the 12th of the same month “I will yet relocate you to your Rehoboth (Place of enlargement and flourishing).
No sooner had the Church facility been dedicated than she sent pastors to begin to search for a new place. By the end of 1997, a possible new location was discovered. As Bishop David Oyedepo got on the ride from Iyana Ipaja in a long convoy, he soon discovered after about 20km and one hour on the decrepit road that they had crossed the old Ota Toll gate and were now bound for the Idi Iroko border of Nigeria and Benin Republic. He got upset. “Where are you taking us to” he fumed and scolded. “Are we joking here? What were you thinking” he asked his pastors who had no response as the mood was not right for one. But for the confusion that would be caused by turning around in the middle of the trip, he almost stopped the trip. However, he decided to continue and see the location as a matter of courtesy and then to show gratitude to those who had been in search for a while. The convoy soon arrived the area and after a very brief survey, Bishop Oyedepo called everybody to just give God thanks for the effort so far. At that moment, he heard clearly from God in his heart ‘THIS IS THE PLACE’.
Shortly before that and in another instance, he had received a separate instruction to ‘Pastor this one church and I will make the whole world your branches’ thus, a church located in the suburbs of a little town in Ota, Ogun State and 40 km from the centre of Lagos became the Lagos Church. It was clearly a move in the wrong direction and negated all wise principles of church growth.
On 29 August 1998, we thronged the venue of the foundation laying event at the new camp. It was a bit easy to relate to the concept as the Enoch Adeboye led Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) had set the pace with the ‘Redemption Camp’ back in 1983. The energetic 44 year old Bishop Oyedepo and his wife resplendent in their red matching suits with Mummy Faith spotting white sneakers led the throng. Sunny Okosun was present to minister while a number of people especially some non members who had come to see for themselves kept asking-will it be as big as RCCG Camp?
David Oyedepo eventually came up to minister and his first words rang loud ‘We are NOT in a competition, we are in a Commission (The great commission). Church Gist. He went on to reveal the project’s 12 year plan. The Y shaped church building would be-Shiloh or ‘Faith Tabernacle’, the secondary school would be ‘Moriah’, pastors’ accommodation would be ‘Ramoth’ (Remember the biblical Ramoth-Gilead, home of Prophet Samuel) Hebron -birthplace of Kings and Queens would be the proposed university grounds (the Nigerian military Government had just announced new laws for the establishment of private universities). A skyscraper would also serve as the church secretariat. The whole 530 acreage was to be known as ‘CANAANLAND’. I imagined how all these would happen by 2010.
My Dad and I decided to visit a village nearby after the foundation laying to see our cousins. In his conversation with them, he announced something big was coming to their environment. They looked knowingly but disappointingly and nodded in the direction of the proposed Federal Government project. No, my Dad declared with a tone of finality. It’s a big church project. My cousins worshipped in a white garment church. It obviously did not make sense that a church would handle a project bigger than the federal government.
A little over 12 months later, the Faith Tabernacle built at the cost of about N900 million ($9 million) was announced on the world stage. Global statisticians rated her as the 13th largest in the world with 50,000 worshippers in terms of Sunday worship attendance thus launching her into global prominence.
All over the world, churches strive to gain access to the strategic City Centre to become more visible and consequently grow. This little church was doing the exact opposite.A concerned pastor approached Bishop Oyedepo and asked, what happens to those who cannot relocate to Ota from Iyana Ipaja? ‘They will find another church’, responded the Bishop, the cloud has moved to Canaanland. A family friend muttered to my hearing ‘Winners are going to lose many members’. His statement was very logical; why should a relatively young church move from the Centre of the city to the bush near the border? Who will follow them? A few days later, a 35 km trip from Canaanland by 6pm ended at Ikosi -Ketu at exactly 12 midnight. This was a most fatal mistake that would have severe consequences on the Church.
Coincidentally, the August 1998 foundation laying had happened a few months after the departure of Archbishop Idahosa and before the RCCG’s estimated 7 million gathering at Lekki 98. It was the same year Deeper Life and Mountain of Fire began moving to their present Conference Centre and Prayer City. Canaanland’s initial 530 acres was procured at N200 million ($2.7 million as at then). These moves beginning with the Ota exodus had consequences for the growth of the gospel in Nigeria.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE MOVE TO OTA
The move to Canaanland necessitated the need for Evangelism on a much larger scale than the Church ever experienced. Street Evangelism has taken a new dimension since the relocation.
Signs and Wonders
Yoruba land is known among other things for the presence of the supernatural such as witches and wizards. Ota however is referred to as the headquarters of witches in yorubaland thus the common adage ‘o buru ju aje Ota’ which implies someone ‘More dangerous than the witches of Ota’. During construction, dead animals with human faces were discovered in Canaanland.,Today, rather than being the Headquarters of witches, it has become the Headquarters of one of the world’s largest churches with miracles happening weekly to the glory of God.
Reduction in crime has happened over time. The place has become an urban center of sorts and no more a spot for criminals to attack travellers on the lonely road.
The move to Ota has turned a forest into a city. The initial 530 acres has now grown to over 17,000 acres. Meanwhile the facilities are world standard with a system working better than that experienced outside the walls. Lack of water or even ‘Power outage’, a nemesis currently being battled within Nigeria is unknown within Canaanland. The camp now hosts one of the ten best universities in Africa, 2 secondary schools, primary school, a growing housing estate and hosts the largest attendance globally for a church worshipping in a single place on Sundays. Properties have increased in value. A property of N20,000 in 1999 is now worth N3 million. A Church member who acquired a property at N3 million in 2003 rejected an offer of N30 million for same property in 2013 for being too small.
The One Church now has over 700 Covenant Hour of Prayer (CHOP) locations, 710 Believers Foundation Class locations, 2000+ Zones for midweek worship and over 25,000 Winners’ Satellite Fellowship centers.
The Ota economy received a significant boost. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, about 1 million dollars is spent weekly by commuters or worshippers to and from Canaanland especially within Ota.
Corporate Social Responsibility
The Church has brought succour to Ota and environs. Roads have been fixed, water provided, a cleaner environment has resulted and businesses have been set up with many of the members of the community exposed to education through scholarships.
The move to Ota kept the Church away from the public view while she increased. The BBC had refused to accept that it was the largest church as at 1999. Despite church historian, C.P Wagner’s announcement in 2004, it took the release of the Guinness World Records in 2008 for the world to appreciate the magnitude of what had happened in 1998. The West was catching up slower than ever before.
Bishop Oyedepo has not failed to remind worshippers that ‘Home is never far’. The Ota Church has grown from 1 service in 1999 to 4 services today. The 50,000 capacity Faith Tabernacle now has an additional 52,000 capacity overflow facility.
On 27th March 2021, after 5 years of conceiving the need for a new auditorium, the foundation of the 109,345 capacity auditorium known as The Ark was laid by Bishop David Oyedepo. The project which is the largest single project ever undertaken by the Church is a legacy project and is to sit on the former site of Faith Academy which has now been moved to a location behind Covenant University. The Ark will be one of the 2 largest auditoria in the world on completion.
The directive received from God that ‘this is the place’ continues to be the watchword of the Bishop who has stated severally that ‘one central church remains my mandate’. While heeding to the one church commandment however, flexibility has necessitated the opening of zonal centers for weekly services which has led to the growth in attendance from 5,000 traveling to Ota on thursdays at inception of the move to Ota to over 120,000 at various zones after the change in 2014. It is believed to be more now. Up to 400,000 have however been counted at the time the Church held 5 services with 25,000 cars driving in on a single Sunday. This would definitely not have happened at Raji Oba.
CHURCH INFLUENCE AND FUTURE PLANS
While the habit of of fixing roads would continue for now, it is necessary to have a train system running effectively to move the masses to and from Canaanland. The Church had come into an agreement with the government in 1999 for a train system but the Government later reneged.
Many members and non members have been inspired to go into real estate and have become wealthier. Many churches and other institutions have also been inspired to start private universities since a young church could run one successfully.
Covenant University pioneered the trend of awarding first class degrees to deserving students contrary to the old order in public universities where some grades were reserved for ‘God’. Universities in Nigeria now give first class degrees to those deserving.
Some of Bishop Oyedepo’s spiritual sons have also been inspired to build large auditoria for the convenience of worshippers. Of note is David Ibiyeomie’s 120,000 capacity ‘Hand of God’ being built by Salvation Ministries which is expected to be completed soon and Dr Paul Enenche’s 100,000 capacity Glory Dome of Dunamis International Gospel Centre dedicated on 24th November 2018. It is heart lifting and inspiring to know that David Ibiyeomie who had just finished from the Word of Faith Bible Institute and Paul Enenche were present at the dedication of 18th September 1999.
Going Forward-Kenneth Copeland has prophesied on the 109,000+ capacity ‘The Ark’ auditorium and adjoining facilities for states, countries and continents which would be the Church growth 9th wonder of the world
Canaanland has proven that the ‘Foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men’. Abraham was told to journey 3 days to a place he did not know to make a sacrifice which changed his story and our faith forever. This among other reasons makes it difficult to question the move to Canaanland till date.
Today, while the country could be forced to refer to the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Estate on Bonny Island as a proof that things could work in Nigeria, the bigger miracle is that under our very noses, God has laid an example with many Cities of God in Nigeria including Canaanland, Ota, Africa.
1 Corinthians 1:25
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
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