“WE BELIEVE in you for better jobs, raises and bonuses, finding money, money finding us, incomes, royalties, real estates, dividends, inheritances…We pray to Jesus and there shall be a turnaround.” So ends the service at the Walthamstow branch of the Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC). Dancers in long white skirts carrying red umbrellas leap onto the stage. Perhaps 1,000 smartly dressed worshipers chant along while ushers collect hefty “tithes”.
Between 2008 and 2013 the membership of Pentecostal churches grew by 25%,to 430,000, reckons Peter Brierley, who tracks church attendance. Not all are west African—Brazilian Pentecostal churches are also buzzing—and not all west African churches are Pentecostal. But African churches of all sorts do seem to be thriving. Whether as materialistic as the KICC or more traditional in their gospel, they are all entrepreneurial. Increasingly, they are reaching out to suburbs and to whites as well.
The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), a particularly successful Nigerian organisation, now has 670 churches in Britain, including branches in Basingstoke and Guildford. The KICC was based in Hackney, but when it lost its building to the 2012 London Olympics it opened a new mega church near Chatham, a poorish part of Kent.
Some preachers see themselves as reverse missionaries, bringing back Christianity to Britain, suggests Babatunde Abedibu, the RCCG’s chief policy officer in Britain. They set up new branches of churches and relentlessly seek converts. To get them, RCCG churches are increasingly doing the sorts of things Anglican churches do: running food banks, crèches and Sunday schools.
And African churches may be encouraging change in Anglican ones. Under the current Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, it is not unusual to see full outdoor adult baptisms, notes David Goodhew of Durham University. That is perfectly compatible with Anglican theology—but also rather new. He thinks “happy-clappy” charismatic worship is also becoming more common, even in some quite fuddy-duddy churches. Some Africans now go to two services each Sunday, one Pentecostal, one Anglican. The most popular churches are those that run good primary schools.