Where else will you get a free plate of spicy Jollof rice, fried plantain and two extra-large pieces of chicken after a church service? At an Apostolic Church in West London, a plate overfilled with this African delicacy was shoved into my hands without my permission, and then came another paper plate with a piece of sponge cake. While I was trying to balance these two plates on my lap, someone tossed a can drink in my direction. With some divine reflex, I instantly dropped the cake to catch the can. Welcome to a standard church service, African style, in London.
There is a subtle, yet an incredible upsurge of Black African churches in London. If you are looking for them at traditional church buildings, you will seldom find them. They are hard to spot in the obvious cathedrals and citadels because they rarely dwell in the traditional church buildings.
This new wave of Charismatic, happy-clappy Christians attend church services at school halls, office premises, shops, community centres, leisure centres, and even in private homes. Just when orthodox churches are struggling to fill their pews, African churches struggle to find spaces big enough for their ever-growing congregations.
One reason for this phenomenal growth is because African church members seek to build communities and maintain their cultural connections with their home countries. So, church premises are not only a place of worship but a hub for Africans in diaspora. As a result, the way the majority of their churches are set up in their worship is a juxtapose of both English and African cultures. As a result, first, second and third generations African immigrants can connect with their native land while embracing the British ways of life as well.
It is almost impossible to find three or four traditional churches like the Church of England, Catholic, Methodist or Baptist on one street anywhere in London. However, with African churches everywhere, it is easy to find ten or more located on just one street in the capital.
Most African churches are unique in their own way, and even though they are a cluster of churches in a geographical area, neighbourhood or street, each one is still able to attract and maintain a fairly large number of worshipers. Woolwich Arsenal in the London Borough of Greenwich alone has over twenty-five African-majority churches in an area which is two miles radius of the train station. Three of which has over 3,000 attendees on a weekly basis.
Some of the churches are so big that no building in town can accommodate them anymore, and this is evident in North London’s Dominion Centre in Woodgreen, South London’s Christ Faith Tabernacle in Woolwich, and the Freedom Centre in Welling. Likewise, West London’s Transformation House – Deeper Life Church in Streatham, have all converted old cinema houses to a state of the art, and an ultra-modern place of worship.
If you thought a cinema house was a big deal, what about Winners Chapel in Dartford, and Kingsway International Christian Centre in Chatham, that have acquired acres of land with multiple buildings, and church services are offered to both Francophone and Anglophone African congregation. These churches attract tens of thousands every week.
Black Christian Churches are growing and gaining ground not only on the backstreets of London but also in some major suburbs in the country. The massive growth can be attributed also to need-led support services offered to African migrants by the church, ranging from welfare support to counselling in the area of immigration, health, bereavement, marriages and youths. The numerous level of support which African immigrants cannot get elsewhere, all offered free-of-charge to members by self-funded churches.
A recent visit by a Testify reporter to Tottenham High Street in North London reveals that there are over 45 churches led by people of Nigeria and Ghana descents in Tottenham, and Seven Sisters area of London Borough of Haringey, offering homeless shelter, soup kitchens, Youth Clubs and many other valuable services to people in their community. A Ghanaian Pastor, Alex Gyasi, the Senior Pastor of Highway of Holiness Church was honoured recently by Her Majesty’s government with an MBE for services to homeless people and destitute in his community in Haringey, London.
Our findings also show that the London Borough of Southwark alone has the largest convergence of African Christians in the world outside Africa, with about twenty thousand worshippers congregating every Sunday in the Borough. It is claimed that over 200 black majority churches are located in the borough alone.
Normally, it might take you just five minutes to drive a vehicle through the start to the end of Old Kent Road in London Borough of Southwark. However, when Testify reporters attempted stopping over at each of the sixty-four churches on the three-mile link road from Old Kent Road, to New Kent Road, it took a whopping five-hour drive just to visit each of the sixty-four churches on the Old Kent Road area.
The non-orthodoxical use of a place of worship may also account for the fast-growing nature of the Black African churches in London. Most churches often start up as “fellowships” or “cell groups” at homes, primary school halls, office spaces, hotels, and community centres. Soon after, they would grow in congregation to occupy bigger unconventional church buildings like leisure centres, cinemas, college halls, disused warehouses that could accommodate thousands of worshippers.
This is in contrast to the norm in orthodox or traditional churches with very few worshippers and empty pews. Some traditional churches are now merging and still can’t fill their pews, and as a result, they are selling their buildings, converting them to museums, community centres and blocks of flats. While African churches are buying off schools, cinemas and warehouses to convert them back to church premises.