By Leke Beecroft
“But thou shall remember the Lord your God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth…” Deuteronomy 8:18
“Very soon and surely before Jesus comes, we shall be as strong as Paris Club; we shall be above IMF”.
Bishop David Oyedepo, (April 3, 2011)
On a mission trip in August 1987 to Tulsa, Oklahoma in the USA, 33 year old David Oyedepo visited the 500 acre Oral Roberts University, he looked around in quiet observation. There stood a 60 floor tower; next to that was a 30 floor skyscraper and then another 20 storey building.
That should awe anyone. As he is one to do, he brooded over scripture ‘…God is no respecter of persons,: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.’ Acts 10:34-35. ‘It can happen anywhere’ the young Nigerian pastor of a ‘grass cathedral’ somewhere in Northern Nigeria muttered under his breath.
A few hours after that experience, he heard God say to him ‘Arise, get back home and make my people rich’. That experience changed his outlook and he impulsively forsook all commitments and returned to Kaduna.
Eleven years from that day, the Church which he pastors began a 530 acre camp project inclusive of a university and one of the world’s largest Church auditoria. Today, Canaanland, Ota is host to Covenant University, one of the best in Africa and by all means the best private university in Nigeria. What is more? The 530 acre property is now about 17,000 acres.
What could be the secret of such growth? Many simplify it as simply a result of offerings collected in her Church services; there could be nothing further from the truth. In Lagos State of Nigeria alone, over 40,000 units of different Churches, both small and large, collect offerings every week.
Offering collection simply does not make a Church wealthy.
The secrets of men are in their stories. In this article, we explore the secrets of one of the wealthiest churches in the world.
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that by them thou mightest war a good warfare”.
1 Timothy 1:18
Some young people gathered at a secondary school in Erinle for a ‘Powerhouse’ prayer and campmeeting in April 1982. They had to make use of plastic spoons, plates and cups for their meals.
They could not afford the use of a hotel facility. It was in that same meeting that the first prophecies over the new ministry were rendered.
Some of these prophecies were… very soon, there would be a world standard industrial publishing press, they would soon be flying their aircraft, a 50,000 capacity ‘tent’ will be built. It all sounded like Utopia at its best. After that event, some of the ‘brothers and sisters’ left that group of dreamers and never returned.
About 17 months later, a lecturer at the University of Ilorin and General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), a growing Church of over 40 branches, Pastor Enoch Adeboye was invited as guest speaker to the ‘commissioning’ of the ministry that had emerged from the powerhouse group: ‘This ministry shall be great’ he prophesied.
Going forward however, he reminded the small group of the story of the donkey which Jesus sat upon in scriptures. He told them that people were not forced to lay their clothes and palm fronds on the ground for the donkey to tread. The clothes were laid for Jesus but the donkey’s legs trod on them. As long as it was carrying Jesus, people laid their cloths.
That was one rich donkey. However he added, the moment Jesus came down from the colt, that was the end of its ministry. As long as Jesus sat on the back of this new ministry, she would remain wealthy’ Adeboye concluded.
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them”.
A pastor friend once asked Bishop Oyedepo in Canaanland, ‘How do you achieve results so cheaply?’ His epic response ‘We don’t do anything except as commanded’.
Living Faith Church as we know it today was intended to start from Jos. At the point she was to relocate, David Oyedepo heard a warning not to move to Jos. Instead, he heard an instruction to move to Kaduna. Later while looking for land to expand in Kaduna, she secured a property of over 100 acres near NNPC. Again she was warned not to use that property on which massive pillars had already been sunk. Soon another divine instruction came and the founder against his personal wishes moved to Lagos and settled in the locality of Iyana Ipaja.
She again moved 10 years later in 1999 to Ota, 17 kilometres away from the city center. A seeming foolish move which eventually announced the young Church on the global stage.
Benevolence to the poor
“He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again”.
‘I am not surprised by the donations from your Church (Winners’ Chapel), because the Church is known as the most generous in the land. However I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the relief materials. This is the longest convoy of deliveries in the history of the Nigerian Red Cross Society since the Civil War ended’-President of the Nigerian Red Cross Society (2001).
As early as April 1984, the total offering of ten naira (N10.00) was given to a member who had nothing to eat. The Church was on hand to send relief to Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone among other nations during various crises. She was also the first ministry to establish educational institutions on a large scale on the Koma Hills in North Eastern Nigeria. Recently she donated mass relief materials to victims of Fulani Herdsmen attacks on the Plateau. A good number of transformers in the communities around the Church in Ota were also provided by the Church. The Church has been giving scholarships since 1992 to indigent members and with an average of 3,000 beneficiaries from all over Africa yearly, she has sponsored the primary, secondary and university education of almost a hundred thousand recipients.
According to the Church’s constitution called her ‘Operational Manual’ and known as ‘The Mandate’, five percent (5%) of Church income is directed towards empowering the poor.
Teachings from Scriptures
“Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice”.
The Church teaches several types of giving to her members,
2. Worship Offering
3. Giving to Parents
4. Providing for family
5. Kingdom Investments (Project Offerings)
6. Giving to Prophets
7. Giving to members of the household of Faith
8. Giving to the poor
In the ministry, pastors need permission to raise ANY special offering to prevent abuse. The popular system where churches raise a group of partners who normally come to the aid of the Church financially is discouraged. Oyedepo protects his altar jealously. In the past, when visiting ministers came to raise offerings or pledges from members, he would ‘release’ them from such pledges especially when he knew that it was a burden to them. The case of a popular American minister who tried to raise pledges from worshippers at the Church in Ota is very fresh. The Pastor has never returned to Canaanland. Worshippers who feel no burden to give thus find it easy to give whenever occasion requires.
The perception that the Church extorts so much money from poor members to keep up the running of the ministry is untrue. Many Church programs are held without taking offerings.
The Covenant Hour of Prayer (CHOP) runs daily without the Church receiving offerings neither does she take offerings during weddings nor during her WSF meetings, (the ministry’s version of Home cell). Offerings are also taken only once during Church services. Interestingly, the second university was built without a single offering taken for it while Church members are also not allowed to pay dues in Church Groups.
Law of Corporate Tithing
“To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all…”
Two weeks after Oyedepo’s return from Oral Roberts University in 1987, he was invited to minister at the Foursquare Gospel Church in Lagos and was lodged at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja. Early one morning, while studying from Hebrews 7:1-8, he made a discovery. In his words “The Holy Ghost said to me, ‘the same way I open the heaven over the lives of individuals, I also open the heavens over organizations, companies, institutions and churches.’ I covenanted with God that day to make this Church a tithing Church’. You may not understand the implication of this. Ten Percent of every income of Winners’ Chapel till date is paid to ANOTHER Church.
That however seems to draw a return of faithful tithing by members. Though with me, there are serious personal issues with the Mormon doctrine, clearly, it is a known fact that it is the largest membership tithe paying church in the world and that has made it the richest church in the world cash-wise and only second to the Catholic Church in terms of assets.
Prudent Financial Management
“When they were filled, He said unto His disciples, gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost”
‘You don’t grow big to manage well
You manage well to grow big’
Dr David Oyedepo
Living Faith Church started from the home of the founder. Everyone shared one toilet while he usually used his car, a Volkswagen beetle to pick members at the Fuel Station and ferry them to his house for services.
The Church did not start from a hotel as is the case with many up and coming ministries today. The first furniture of the Church was a Table Tennis board.
Eventually when furniture was to be made, it was not made according to requirements but according to money available.
The Church cut its coat according to her cloth and not according to her size.
Today, the Ministry buys property and avoids rentals. The only hotel known to be used today is in Dubai and that is because of her peculiar case. Living Faith Church does not take loans. She has successfully built two universities from scratch without a loan.
First Bank offered a N1 Billion loan in 2002. The money would have made a big difference at the time but it was rejected by the Bishop. The ‘No Loan’ policy has been inserted in the Mandate and a curse planted in it for anyone who would ever try to take a loan on behalf of the Church.
The Church spends only 40% of her annual income and saves the rest for a rainy day in the manner Joseph applied in Egypt.
Sacrifice and Kingdom Projects
“Gather up my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice”
“Let me show you what I am doing now because the time will come when some of us are flying in the air and others are grumbling ‘we don’t even know what they are using’ let me tell you what I’m using. I am sold out for God”.-David Oyedepo
The Living Faith Church is a sacrificial Church and this was first exemplified in the life of the founder and Presiding Bishop. At the early stage of the ministry, funds were once needed for an outreach and while praying for insight in how to get money, it was laid in his heart to sacrifice his only car, a 504 peugeot. He gave it out to be sold and on his way home, he heard God say to him “My son David, even if you don’t want to be rich, it is too late”.
On another occasion, while worshipping on a field, it was laid in his heart to offer his monthly salary for life as sacrifice. This he did and never mentioned it to his wife until she began to ask questions two months later. Three years from then, gifts in cash and kind became so much that he had to employ his own personal accountant to keep records.
The Church known for her large and unique building structures presently has over 6,000 branches and personally, David Oyedepo’s goal is to build at least 1000 churches singlehandedly in his lifetime. A good number of that have been built already.
“I must work the works of him that sent me…”
‘The devil knows that I work, even work knows that I’m working it’-David Oyedepo
One of the unique characteristics of this mission is hardwork. The Dominion Publishing House which is the publishing arm of the Church has churned out well over 10 million books till date. The Church operates like the Catholic Church which holds daily masses with her Covenant Hour of Prayer (CHOP) ensuring that pastors and even worshippers are up very early. Her parishes run multiple services to cater for her numerous members. In densely populated areas, services run up to 4 on Sundays while the headquarters run 5 services.
The Church has a plethora of institutions from kindergarten to primary and secondary schools as well as universities and Bible Schools. She runs water factories, bread baking factories, poultries and arable farms.
The ministry generates its own power and owns her own building firm which in most cases builds her structures. Winners’ Chapel is one of the most disciplined Churches in terms of promptness and time keeping. Her pastors live a rigorous prayer lifestyle which is also inputed into members and above all, she is one of the most zealous soul winning missions on the face of the earth today.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…”
A unique attribute of the Church is her desire to service humanity. The land for Landmark University was actually procured in the 80s bearing in mind the desire by Oyedepo to build a future hospital for his community. Today, the university has been built with a standard hospital as there is no government hospital several kilometres around. Also, a town hall built was built for the town of Omu-Aran while 4 secondary schools were renovated. Also, a heavily discounted bus shuttle was provided while a Ring Road built for the little town amongst many others.
This recent quote by Bishop Oyedepo captures the essence of service the ministry is known for: ‘In the 1970s, Kenneth E Hagin gave $40,000 worth of books to Nigeria for free. I was among the beneficiaries. They were sold to us and we were happy to buy them from those that received it.
One day in the USA, God said to me “I found you faithful as a vendor, I have thus made you an author”…till today, I am yet to get the first kobo from my books. I have never been tempted to ask for royalty. It is the Word of God, we are only publishing it.’
The True Riches
“If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches”?
Winners’ Chapel is undoubtedly a wealthy Church though from very humble beginnings.
The Faith Tabernacle was built in exactly one year (September 18, 1998-September 17, 1999)-during the Nigerian Military era. Anyone alluding that the new project, Faith Theatre has not been built because of lack of money is simply ignorant. According to the Bishop, every penny required to build is already in an account waiting to be spent. Also, when considering time and size, Faith Tabernacle can be said to be the fastest auditorium ever built.
Canaanland is the best managed Christian camp of such magnitude in the World. The network of roads, 24-7 electricity, water supply, security, provision of continuous infrastructure and maintenance have all come at a cost.
Goshen, the largest and most developed camp in northern Nigeria-700 acres-15,000 capacity auditorium and other facilities built in 15 months.
Most Church facilities from where the ministry operates are owned by the Church.
On very few occasion does she rent properties. Every new parish has either just moved or is preparing to move into her new facility and most new branches were only established late in 2009 when the Church exploded from 700 branches to about 6000.
The ministry is presently building the largest housing estate in Africa, a 15,000 housing estate called ‘Canaan City’ which would be second only to the Co-Op City Estate, a 15,342 housing estate located in Bronx, New York and built between 1968 and 1973 in the USA housing over 56,000 people.
Contrary to Forbes’ Magazine’s claims that the ministry runs one secondary and one primary school, there are actually 20 secondary schools and over 150 primary and kindergarten schools. Thus, she is one of the biggest stakeholders in the Nigerian education system.
The total income in 1984 was N18,000 while the total income in 1985 was also less than N1 million. Now according to Oyedepo, “we spend N1 million every second”.
The ministry is already running budgets in hundreds of billions of naira and according to the Bishop, “very soon, we will be in the trillions”.
Truly, the Church is Marching on and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.