by Charles Odii
When I sent the topic of this article to my friend who lives in the US, he called me immediately to air his contrary opinion. In his words:
“You cannot talk about the richest pastors in the world without mentioning some Nigerians. With a fleet of private jets and exotic cars, they are leading the pace of religious luxury in the world”.
Well, he certainly has a point. Most well-known Nigerian pastors have caught up with the luxury lifestyle and exotic personal branding trend, but when it comes to the digital disruption and the future of human communication, they are still lagging behind.
Our way of life has changed, technology has revolutionised everything from the way we move around (Uber) to the way we book accommodation (Airbnb) and even the way we shop for tomatoes and fresh fruits. It is definitely advantageous to jump on the digital train as it isn’t stopping at goods and services but also eating deep into culture. This may easily be attributed to the convenience and cost effectiveness that digitisation offers.
However, most Nigerian churches are yet to board the digital train even though it presents an opportunity to make life easier and more convenient for the members.
The future of church, like everything else is DIGITAL.
Soon there’ll be no need for physical gatherings, meanwhile we are still raising billions of naira to build brick and mortar churches. Shouldn’t some of this effort be dedicated towards creating robust apps and platforms where members can stream live and join service from any location?
When I heard how much it cost a particular church to build its headquarters along the Lekki-Epe express way, Lagos, Nigeria, I was in shock as the cost amounted to almost 10% of the Nigerian budget. Do you know how many Nigerians that money could have impacted in terms of housing, health care, education and other basic necessities of life?
With the aid of technology, I can attend the church service of my choice without the constraint of distance or traffic. I can even decide to draw inspiration from multiple sources. I can simply tune into Pastor Adeboye’s sermon and then join a Mountain of Fire prayer session if I want or I can simply stick to the church of my choice.
We are certainly in the last days, as described by the Bible and there is now minimal need for massive church buildings. As the Scripture says: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit upon all People. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions and your old men will dream”. (Acts 2:17NLV).
The emphasis here is the Spirit of the Lord which would be poured upon all people and not necessarily people in physical church buildings.
Considering that a lot of churches are in existence for years before they are able to secure a “permanent site”, they are often compelled to rent commercial buildings to commence operations. These commercial buildings function as night clubs on Friday, wedding reception venues on Saturdays and church venues on Sunday. Is it necessary for a young church to walk down this path?
On the 1st of June 2017, the gospel artist Nathaniel Bassey launched the Halleluyah Challenge. The Halleluyah Challenge is simply a one hour worship and prayer session hosted on Instagram (a social media platform that is absolutely free) and as at day 9 of the challenge over 23,000 people all over the world where tuned in to the live stream with testimonies pouring in. If he had decided to host this as a physical gathering, it would have taken months and months of preparation and millions of naira to execute with no guarantee of reaching as many people.
Some churches have been in existence for ten years raising millions of Nigeria annually to rent venues, buy chairs, music equipment, generators, et al with less than 5,000 members. The business case is clear…impact/reach trumps beautiful buildings!
The church of the Lord is not in physical buildings, but in the heart of men. We are to carry the “church” with us everywhere we go.
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples “whom do men say that I the son of man am?” Then Simon peter answered and said, “thou art the Christ, the son of the living God and Jesus answered and said unto him, blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: For flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my father which is in heaven. And I say also onto thee, that thou art peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”(Mathew 16;13-20).
Modern day church fund raising shouldn’t be for expensive church buildings but rather for impacting the lives of church members and for the implementation of robust communication and collaborations platforms to make the lives of church members easier. I don’t have to miss Tuesday mid-week service because I was stuck in traffic or working late, I can simply log on to my go-to Meeting App and pray with my brethren all over the world.
The same applies for Sunday morning services. I have heard people say they find certain elements of church service distracting; these elements range from the socialising in church to the way some of the members dress. Such people should not be disenfranchised from enjoying the Word, they should have the option of attending service online to avoid distractions.
A lot of times when it rains on Sunday mornings, the road networks are water logged especially for those living on the Island in Lagos and this tends to make the attendance level lower than normal. Meanwhile, the church has incurred so much cost fueling the generator, paying the security personnel, renting the venue etc. Rain cannot stop an online service from holding and would generally not affect “turn out”. Online church can also not be interrupted by “no movement” restrictions, fuel scarcity and other surprises that tend to occur every now and again.
Why can’t I enjoy the ministration online, log on to my mobile app and pay my tithe or offering? The Bible says where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them. The Bible is very clear, as long as we are gathered in the name of Jesus, it doesn’t matter if we gather online or in a physical temple; as long as we are gathered in the name of Jesus the Lord is there.
More so, if the church also has social portals like Twitter and Facebook for the church members to interact, I can immediately tweet a Rhema I receive to bless my fellow church members, this I cannot do in a physical gathering.
For the people who would say that church gatherings are important for the networking opportunities, as a lot of Christians meet their spouses in church, here is my response: If the church has an online community and you happen to find a sister you find attractive you can simply slide into her DM (Banky W style) and start a conversation. This even opens you up to meeting members from different locations, states and countries. If things progress and you actually decide to get married, the church should have an online marriage counselling platform where you can simply have a Skype session with the counsellor instead of arranging crash courses or forgetting about it all together because of time, location and distance constraints.
Very recently there have been collapse of church buildings and even bomb scares with people deciding to avoid crowded environments all together. Does this mean that church service shouldn’t hold? Of course, church services should hold!
Church services and crusades can still hold online and miracles will happen as long as the Spirit of God is involved. Distance has never been a barrier for the Spirit of God. Pastor Chris for instance has been known to pray in Nigeria and people get healed in faraway America. This applies to a host of other ministries as well.
I think most Nigerian churches have to fully embrace the internet of everything and position themselves strategically in the digital space as the disruption is here to stay and so is the body of Christ!
**Charles Odii is a Jesus boy, entrepreneurship and culture enthusiast, fashion entrepreneur and a PhD student at the school of Media and communication, Pan Atlantic University.