All we hear of Nigeria in the news is about attacks on Christians by the terror group Boko Haram. But something different is happening in the country's south, as reflected in a three and a half square mile pavilion a Pentecostal church is constructing to accommodate increasing number of worshiper.
The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria's most populous city of Lagos currently holds its all-night prayer meetings in a covered pavilion that can seat about a million people. It's the size of 87 football fields, and yet not big enough.
The new pavilion under construction will be 18 times the size of the existing one, or three and a half square miles, reports Public Radio International.
One of the well-known programs of the church is the Holy Ghost Service, an "all-night miracle service" held on the first Friday of every month with the average attendance of about 500,000 people, according to the church's website. But the number of participants is growing.
Lagos, where the church is situated, is arguably the most Pentecostal city in the world, writes author Allan Anderson in his book, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity.
The city has a long history of independent African churches emphasizing spiritual gifts, dating back to the time of the great influenza epidemic of 1918, Anderson explains. Those who left the mission churches at the time and sought God in prayer for healing became known as "Aladura," which means possessors of prayer, he adds. "The white-robed, often bare-foot Aladura are still found in thriving churches, but in Lagos one cannot fail to notice hundreds of relatively new churches with signboards on every street corner."
Even nationally, evangelical Christianity has grown in Nigeria, which is among the countries that have a sizable Pentecostal population, along with the United States, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India, the Philippines and South Korea.
The Pew Forum's 2006 Pentecostal survey suggested that renewalists – including charismatics and Pentecostals – accounted for about 30 percent of all Nigerians. The survey also found that roughly 60 percent of Protestants in Nigeria were either Pentecostal or charismatic, and 30 percent Nigerian Catholics surveyed could be classified as charismatic.
The numbers of Christians in Nigeria has grown from 21.4 percent in 1953 to 50.8 percent in 2010, according to Pew's "Global Christianity: Regional Distribution of Christians" report published in December 2011. Most of the country's Christians live in the south.
Today, Nigeria's Christian population is nearly the same size as the total population of Germany.
All of Christianity's major groups have grown in Nigeria since the 1970s, but the growth of Pentecostal churches has been especially dramatic in recent decades, Pew notes.
About half of the 174 million people in Nigeria are Muslim, most of whom live in the north, where Boko Haram has been launching attacks on Christians in an apparent move to make a case for the separation of the Muslim-majority north.
Boko Haram's attacks escalated and Christians became one of the primary targets after the victory of President Jonathan, a Christian from the south and a leader of the People's Democratic Party, in the April 2011 election.