One year ago, the reportedly "fastest-growing church in Africa" dedicated a $15.5 million, 10,000-seat conference center in a sparse prairie town northeast of Dallas whose population is less than 1 percent black.
The auditorium was just the beginning, said officials with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG)—a fish farm, schools, and a university were on the way. The church is offering free land to members willing to build a home on the 788-acre campus, and plans to expand its Pavilion Center to seat 1 million.
It sounded audacious, but then so did its statistics: The Pentecostal denomination that started in Nigeria in 1952 opened its first American congregation in Detroit in 1992. Between 2009 and 2013, it nearly doubled its churches in North America to 720.
But when the RCCG's longtime leader, Enoch Adejare Adeboye, returns for the North American branch's convention in June, not much will have changed. Doyin Oke, chief operating officer, says the RCCG has about the same number of North American churches it did a year ago.
Church planting, however, is not RCCG's only strategy for growth. Even among West Africans, who have some of the highest birth rates in the world, the RCCG has a reputation for promoting baby-making among its members. (The World Bank says Nigeria has 40 births per year per 1,000 people; the United States has 14.)
In 2011, as Adeboye neared age 70, he asked that RCCG give him a birthday present of adding 70,000 babies to the church. He later raised the goal to 100,000. (He also called RCCG to make 700,000 new converts.)
"If I had my way, I would have had 100 children," Adeboye told convention-goers, according to Nigerian newspaper Vanguard. "But ...