Highlighting the growing strength of Christianity in the Global South, Africa's largest evangelical church plans to build a 10,000-seat megachurch complex near Dallas, Texas. One pastor expects the endeavor will become a "Christian Disneyland."
The project is being undertaken by the Nigeria-based Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), a pentecostal/charismatic movement founded in 1952, which has congregations in 90 countries around the world and more than 200 parishes in the U.S.
It will include two elementary school size lecture centers, a dormitory, several cottages, a lake and a Christian-themed water park, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Among the top concerns of the denomination is reviving Christianity in the West, according to Dr. Afe Adogame, a Nigerian who studies and teaches in Germany, and spent three years studying the the RCCG at Harvard. When visiting the church's main sanctuary in Lagos, Nigeria, he noticed a poster which read: "Missionaries to a dead Europe."
"Their mission goal is to make heaven and to take as many people with them as possible," said Adogame, "and they meant it," he told the Morning News.
The American mission began in the U.S. as the result of a vision a pastor had when visiting the country 20 years ago.
The Church's General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, said he received the vision from God at the Dallas/Fort Worth international airport while on a trip to a revival in Oklahoma.
Ten years later, when the church's first congregation in Dallas began forming, another Pastor, Abjibike Akinkoye also had a similar dream about what was to come.
"You are not going to build a megachurch yet," the pastor said, remembering the words he says he heard from God. "You are going to plant little parishes around the Dallas metroplex, and then I will give you a camp," he told the Dallas Morning News.
Today, the parishes extend across the nation. There are 25,000 members in 292 churches across the U.S. and an estimated membership of 2 million to 5 million worldwide. Their mission statement includes having a church within a 5 minute walk of every city in developing countries, and a 5 minute drive to a church in a developed nation.
Financially, the U.S. megachurch project will cost in the tens of millions of dollars. It will likely be supported by the mother church in Nigeria, according to the Morning News.
Pastors in the U.S. churches send 20 percent of church tithes to the national headquarters. AkinKoye says his church sends $4,000 monthly.
When the church first began buying parcels of land for the church five years ago, local County Judge Joe Bobbitt was initially concerned, fearing that the newcomers could be religious extremists. However after speaking with them and being invited to a tent revival, his worries were allayed.
"They were congenial, very kind, well-spoken," he said. "If you have the right to be in this country, I want you to be in Hunt County," he added.
Akinkoye and church leaders were aware that some in the area could possibly be antagonistic to black newcomers. He said he had been told the Ku Klux Klan was still active in the area.
Some residents interviewed by the Dallas Morning Star showed uneasiness, but not ill will, about suddenly receiving a large number people from a different culture, different color and foreign land.
Paul Patterson, a retired teacher who lives nearby spoke about the controversy the the new church had aroused.
"Some people may be concerned ... but you're always concerned about what you don't know or understand," Patterson said.
Akinkoye has previously considered the possibility that arson could take place at the church building's once they're done, but he felt sure that God could change even a bad situation into a better one.
"If it happens, the first thing we'll do is pray for them, he said. "Then God will turn it around for good, and the very people who used their hands to damage this place... God will bring them back to repent or pay restitution, and they will give their lives to Christ."