Once you see a large church, know the attraction cannot be the gospel.
I was standing in the parking lot of the building where I lived in Lagos, talking to Bimbo Dada, now Director of Library, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, when a man walked through the gate and came to talk to me. He said he worked for an oil-company but had recently been posted out of town. There was a lunch-hour fellowship meeting every week in his house and he was at a loss what to do about it now he was leaving. So he had been asking the Lord for guidance.
On that particular day, the Lord told him to stop praying. He told him to go out of the house and walk down the road. When he got to our gate, the Lord told him to go in. Then he said to him: “You are to hand over the lunch-hour fellowship to that man talking to the lady over there.” So the man said to me: “The Lord said I should hand over the lunch-hour fellowship meeting in my house to you.”
I told him the Lord himself would have to speak to me directly. After getting the confirmation I required, I agreed to take over the fellowship. That was how I inherited a 20-man lunch-hour fellowship in 1994.
Rapid church growth
In my zeal, I took three quick decisions. I moved the fellowship from my living-room to the parking-lot of our building. I bought one-hundred plastic chairs and paid for a weekly supply of meat-pies and soft-drinks. The membership of the fellowship grew by leaps and bounds. Soon, all the one-hundred chairs I bought were filled.
In 1997, I moved the fellowship to a new rented location which seated 120. That capacity was also soon exceeded. I knocked down some walls and extended the seating-space to 180. That capacity was also quickly exceeded. I then decided to hold the fellowship twice a week. For the next six years, I preached to some 200 people in Victoria Island, Lagos every lunch-hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I gave them all meat-pies and soft-drinks out of my own pocket, as I had done the previous three years.
Certain things prompted me to review this strategy in 2003. It dawned on me that most people came just for the meat-pies. I noticed that some even came as late as five minutes to the end of the fellowship, just in time for the snacks. So I changed the rules. If you were not in the hall before thirty minutes after the start of the fellowship, you were not allowed to enter. This caused a problem because some late-comers would create a scene by banging loudly on the glass doors; disturbing the proceedings.
I recalled that Jesus fed 5,000 people by multiplying loaves of bread and fish. But when the multitude followed him across the water the next day wanting to be fed yet again, he refused to oblige. He only fed them with the word of God. Therefore, I decided to suspend temporarily the meat-pies and the soft drinks.
I could not believe what happened. Exactly as in the case of Jesus, within a few weeks, the crowds shrank from the roughly two hundred people who attended each fellowship to only about twenty.
I was then confronted with a dilemma. Do I go back to the meat-pies and the two-hundred crowds; or do without the meat-pies and have only twenty people? I decided the two hundred meat-pie crowd was a waste of time. As Jesus observes, they were only labourers for perishable food. (John 6:27). Only the twenty were really interested in Christ. So I stopped giving meat-pies permanently.
Few are chosen
Reinhard Bonnke set a new world record at an epic crusade in Lagos, Nigeria; over one million and one hundred thousand people publicly accepted Jesus into their lives. Reinhard made each person fill a form. He then had those forms carefully tabulated. In Pentecostal circles, that means all those people are “born again,” and are appointed for heaven. (Romans 10:9-10). Thereafter, they are regarded as Christians.
But are all those “new converts” going to end up in heaven?
I live in Lagos. It is a city of over ten million people. If in one day, a tenth of all Lagosians become Christians, Reinhard should not have to come all the way from Germany to tell me. I should know about it. Only one hundred and twenty new converts revolutionised Jerusalem at the Pentecost. They could not be missed. When Paul and a handful of believers visited Thessalonica, there was uproar. Some were up in arms because, according to them: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” (Acts 17:6).
If we go by the criteria the Lord himself established, instead of relying on Reinhard’s statistics, there must have been very few people who received Christ at Reinhard Bonnke’s crusade in Lagos. Jesus said “by their fruits you shall know them.” There were no discernible fruits from over one million new believers in Lagos after Reinhard’s crusade, not even for one day.
Jesus says: “Yes, the way to identify a tree or a person is by the kind of fruit produced. Not all who sound religious are really godly people. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but still won’t get to heaven. For the decisive question is whether they obey my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:20-21).
Reinhard’s one million new converts in Lagos were remarkably invisible. Beyond their data records at his Christ for All Nations, I dare say nobody in Lagos could recognise them. Christians are supposed to carry in themselves, the perfume of Christ: “As far as God is concerned there is a sweet, wholesome fragrance in our lives. It is the fragrance of Christ within us, an aroma to both the saved and the unsaved all around us.” (2 Corinthians 2:15).
However, unlike the woman with the alabaster box, the new-converts in Lagos singularly failed to change the atmosphere in the city. Lagos drivers, noted for their selfishness on the road, continued driving as before. The level of criminality remained the same. The state of ungodliness did not abate. Surely, if as many as one million people were converted, there would be discernible change.
In the kingdom of God, good things come in small congregations. God says: “The more my people multiplied, the more they sinned against me” (Hosea 4:7). Therefore, he says: “I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion” (Jeremiah 3:14).
Jesus promises to be where two or three are gathered together in his name. (Matthew 18:20). Elsewhere, he points out that the kingdom of God is specifically for a small fellowship: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).
The true gospel message is not attractive to the crowd. It requires us to we forsake all, lay down our lives and follow Jesus. It is a hard way through a narrow gate that few are able to find. (Matthew 7:14).
So, once you see a large church, know the attraction cannot be the gospel.