David Oyedepo, bishop of the Living Faith Church also known as Winner’s Chapel vividly captured the reason for the business approach of many Pentecostal pastors to evangelism in his book: “Exploits In Ministry.”
In the book, he described ministry as “essentially business.” He says: “Without doubt, one of the reasons why most ministries ordained of God fall short of expectation or collapse completely is due to their unbusiness–like approach to ministry.
Ministry is essentially business. Jesus said: Wist ye not that I must be about my father’s business (Luke 2:49). It’s God’s business, not the father’s religion… We have been accused of turning ministry into a business. But that is jot true. We met it as business, Jesus, the author and founder of Ministry told us it is a business.”
Oyedepo explained that just as business involves investment and profit making, pastors invest in ministry to make profit. It is, therefore, little wonder that today, Oyedepo and some other wealthy Pentecostal pastors have re-invented the core meaning of Christianity by pushing the frontiers of affluence in the socia-political, business and educational realms of Nigeria.
Apart from Oyedepo, other Pentecostal pastors whose church empires are flourishing include: Enoch Adeboye, General Overseer, the Redeemed Christian Church of God RCCG, Chris Oyakhilome, Pastor, Christ Embassy, Daniel Kolawole Olukoya, General Overseer, Mountain of Fire Ministry, Lazarus Muoka, The Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Movement
Others are: Matthew Ashimolowo, senior pastor, Kingsway International Christian Centre, KICC, Sam Adeyemi, Pastor of Daystar Christian Centre, Chris Okotie of House of God Church, Chuch of God Mission established by late Archbishop Benson Idahosa and others.
Of all these Pentecostal ministries, Oyedepo’s Living Faith Church stands out as one of the most ambitious in terms of turning ministry into a thriving business. The Winners Chapel bishop who rides a private jet and goes about in a convoy of flashy cars owns one of the biggest church facilities in Nigeria, a private university that charges exorbitant fees as well as many other equally highbrow business projects.
Oyedepo’s flourishing church empire, however, began in a little way in Kaduna in 1981 when he started the church in his living room. As a pastor who approached his calling strictly as a business, the church soon gained a large followership. In 1989, Oyedepo said that God asked in him to move down to Lagos.
He obeyed and opened a branch in Iyana-Ipaja, Lagos. It grew so large to the extent that the church could no longer contain the ever-expanding congregation. He, therefore, conceived the idea of building the largest church in the world along Idiroko Road, Sango-Ota because apart from Lagos expressway, that was the only place where he could acquire vast expanse of land. He named the vast expanse of land, Cannanland and boasted that he would complete building the 50, 000 seater church auditorium in Canaanland within a year.
In September 1999, he completed the church building, which he named Faith Tabernacle or Shiloh. The six-sides church auditorium built by Oyedepo, an architect-turned pastor is reputed as an architectural wonder that cost millions of naira. The completion of the imposing auditorium encouraged Oyedepo to explore other investment opportunities that would yield profit and enlarge his church empire.
In October 1999, a month after the dedication of Faith Tabernacle, Oyedepo conceived the idea of establishing a private Christian mission university, secondary and primary schools within Canaanland. As a business-minded pastor, he pursued the venture vigorously and in October 2002, the Covenant University which Oyedepo is Chancellor began operation and produced it first set of graduates in July, 2006. He has also established the nursery/primary school arm named Kingdom Heritage and the secondary school named Faith Academy.
Unlike the missionary schools owned by the orthodox churches in the colonial era whose motive of establishing educational institutions was not for profit-making, Oyedepo’s schools are essentially business ventures. The schools are very expensive and only wealthy Nigerians can afford the exorbitant fees charged by them.
Covenant University is perhaps one of the most expensive Christian universities in Nigeria today. The school fees vary according to the different department and levels that each student is in.
It, however, ranges from #334, 000 to #384, 000. (Figure from 2007). Accommodat6fee for 100 and 200 level students #30, 000 while that for the 300 to 500 level engineering studentsnofvtge school pay #260, 000 as tuition, registration and examination fees, #40, 000 as lab workshop and studio fees, medical deposit, #15, 000 book deposit, #6, 000 for entrepreneurial development studies, EDS, and #3000 for Information and Commu Technology, ICT. This brings the total amount paid by each 300-500 level engineering students to #384, 000.
In Covenant University, the cafeteria, which is the only place students get their meals from as they are not allowed to cook, is run by the school. It is equally expensive. A plate of food costs #150 (Figure from 2007). The halls of the cafeteria are also sometimes rented out to individuals who wish to use them for events for about #30, 000. In addition, the university also has its own company that produces bottled and sachet water sold on campus.
The water, named Hebron is bottled and packed by the school and it is the only brand sold in the university. The University also has a bakery.
Students of the institution are also not allowed to bring or use their personal phones on campus. This is apparently meant to create another business opportunity for the university as it runs phone booths where the students make and receive calls, which they pay for. The university has about 12 phone booths, one in each hostel and some others in the college buildings and at the chapel. Local mobile calls are made at #35 per minute while internationa calls cost #60k per minute (Figure from 2007).
Covenant University has more than 6, 000 students and considering the exorbitant fees and business ventures which students are compelled to patronize, the founder of Winner’s Chapel smiles to the bank with millions of naira. The school has its own bank called Covenant University Community Bank.
At Faith Academy, the secondary school owned by tge church, each student pays #150, 000 per session. Oyedepo, who believes strongly that ministerial calling is ‘a deal which must be handled as the exponent it is meant to be” is an exponent of prosperity preaching.
According to him, it was while on trip to Tusla in the United States during the trips that God said: “make my people rich,” . But in the process of making hos flock rich, Oyedepo has become one of the richest pastors in Nigeria. His ministry has missionaries working for him in about 30 African countries and his foreign outposts remit to the headquarters, for which Oyedepo has unfettered access.
In 2004, the headquarters church in Lagos was embroiled in a battle with its Accra, Ghana branch to assert its supremacy and control over funds. The crisis was between the Nigerian headquarters of the Accra branch, then headed by George Owusu Adjeman, a Ghanian and pastor of the church since 1985.
Adjeman was said to have questioned the rationale behind the remittance of more than $50, 000 monthly to the headquarters from Accra branch alone. Adjeman accused Oyedepo of insincerity and using Ghanians as cash cows.
This was seen as an afront on Oyedepo who commands a cult status at Winner’s Chapel. Adjeman was dismissed for his decision to stop remittance of money to Lagos headquarters.
Publishing is another source of money making for Oyedepo as he has churned out more than 100 Christian religious and motivational books. Two of the ,ist outstanding books from which Oyedepo made a lot of profit are “Satan Get Lost and The Power of Praise”.
He also pioneered radio and television evangelism In The country in 1981. It was called ‘The Liberation Hour’ and was stopped In The late ups partly because Oyedepo felt that he had achieved his vision of raising a large flock and as a business inclined pastor he thought that since other churches had also taken it up, it is better fir him to use tgecresources in other avenue.
Oyedepo’s church has been involved in many controversies. It had been accused of over-concentrating on prosperity sermons. But, Oyedepo argued that Mosaic and latter-day Christian teachings insist that Christians are not objects of lack but of prosperity.
Adapted from Newswatch magazine, August, 2007.