Old-Time Nigerian Religion Comes to America

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Feb. 12 2014 3:49 PM

Old-Time Nigerian Religion Comes to America

Jason Margolis reports on the construction of a new facility in Texas for the African Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination founded in Nigeria in 1952 that now claims “720 churches in North America, nearly double from four years ago, and they claim 15,000 members in the US.”

The redeemed church’s pastors send “20% of tithes, offerings and other funds to the headquarters in Nigeria.” Growth in America, reportedly, “holds special appeal to Church leaders who believe in a manifest Christian destiny from Africa.”

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Pentecostalism may have been born in the United States—in its modern form, it's usually traced back to the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in the early 20th century, though some argue it has older antecedents—but today it’s very much a global movement and most of its growth is in Africa and Latin America.

An estimated 280 milion people follow Pentecostalism worldwide—though the number could be higher if you include similar charismatic Christian movements—with 50 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa. About 13 percent of Latin America’s Christians are now Pentecostal as well.

American missionaries played an important part of spreading the faith around the world, but one question posed by reseearchers is whether the transmission would reverse: Would any of the hundreds of new denominations sprouting up in Africa cross the Atlantic and gain adherents in the United States? The decentralized structure of Pentecostalism leads to new branches and churches being created more quickly than in other forms of Christianity.

Margolis’ reporting on the Redeemed Christian Church of God seems to indicate we haven’t hit that point yet. The church’s members are nearly all Nigerian or African immigrants, and it has had a hard time expanding beyond those communities. But the Catholic Church certainly isn’t the only Christian denomination whose geographical center of gravity is shifting. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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