Nigerian Church History in Brief

Christianity came to Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal. The first mission of the Church of England was, though, only established in 1842 in Badagry by Henry Townsend. In 1864 Samuel Ajayi Crowther, an ethnic Yoruba and former slave, was elected Bishop of the Niger and the first black Bishop of the Anglican Communion. Lagos became a diocese of its own in 1919.

1910s-1920s: Around 1910, an Anglican deacon launches an indigenous prophetic movement that later becomes the Christ Army Church. Following an influenza epidemic in 1918, revivals flare within the mission churches and the Christ Army Church. Spirit-filled groups also expand, including those known by the Yoruba word Aladura (“praying people”). Early Aladura churches include the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society, founded in 1925, and the Church of the Lord (Aladura), founded in 1930. Around 1918, an Anglican forms a prayer group known as the Precious Stone (Diamond) Society to heal influenza victims. The group leaves the Anglican Church in the early 1920s and affiliates with Faith Tabernacle, a church based in Philadelphia (Anderson 2001: 80-82; Gaiya 2002: 5).


1930s-1940s: During the 1930s, Joseph Babalola of Faith Tabernacle leads a revival that converts thousands. In 1932, his movement initiates ties with the pentecostal Apostolic Church of Great Britain after coming into conflict with colonial authorities, but the association dissolves over the use of modern medicine. In 1941, Babalola founds the independent Christ Apostolic Church, which is estimated to have over a million members by 1990 (Anderson 2001: 86-87). Foreign Pentecostal denominations such as the Welsh Apostolic Church (1931), the Assemblies of God (1939) and the Foursquare Gospel Church (1954) are also introduced during this period.

1950s: In the 1950s the Celestial Church of Christ arrives in western Nigeria from Benin. The church rapidly expands into northern Nigeria and becomes one of Africa’s largest Aladura churches. In 1952, a former member of the Cherubim and Seraphim society, Pa Josiah Akindayomi, founds the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Under Enoch Adejare Adeboye, the church becomes increasingly pentecostal in theology and practice and grows from an estimated 42 congregations in 1980 to around 7,000 in 2004, with followers in more than 90 countries, including the U.S. (Anderson 2001: 85: Murphy, March 25, 2006; Mahtani, April 26, 2005; Ojo 2004: 4).


1960s-1970s: Originating in evangelical student revivals, a wave of pentecostal expansion spawns new churches in the 1960s and 1970s. A leader of this expansion is Benson Idahosa, one of Africa’s most influential pentecostal preachers. Idahosa establishes the Church of God Mission International in 1972. In 1974, the pentecostal umbrella organization Grace of God ministry is founded in eastern Nigeria. The Deeper Life Bible Church is founded in 1975, and soon becomes one of Nigeria’s largest neo-pentecostal churches, with an estimated 350,000 members by 1993 (Ojo 2004: 3; Olupona 2003: 16; Gaiya 2002: 15).

1980s-present: New charismatic churches grow throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986, David Oyedepo founds Living Faith Outreach Worldwide, popularly known as “Winners’ Chapel.” It opens a “Faith Tabernacle” in the suburbs of Lagos in 1999 that seats 50,000 people (Phillips, Nov. 30, 1999; Ojo 2004: 4).

The Forum’s 2006 pentecostal survey suggests that renewalists – including charismatics and pentecostals – account for approximately three-in-ten Nigerians. The survey also finds that roughly six-in-ten Protestants in Nigeria are either pentecostal or charismatic, and three-in-ten Nigerian Catholics surveyed can be classified as charismatic.


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