On a weekend last month, members of Dominion City, Victoria Island, one of the many young and hippie chapters of the megachurches in Lagos, attended “The Transition”, a seminar at church which had the tagline “Converting Strategy to Action.”
The event had been months in the making. The lineup of speakers included top executives from Earnipay, PiggyVest, Wavis Investment.
The members of the church had gathered around to sharpen their employability skills, pitch their business ideas or if they’re lucky get funding, and network with other professionals.
How it all started
As Nigerian mega-churches with pastors in crisp three-piece suits and massive followers on Instagram become a mainstay in the religious space, events like this, organised by churches to leverage usually its membership to create professional opportunities for members have been springing up. When tech became a booming industry, they jumped on it.
Over time, the modus operandi of pentecostal churches began to change. These new preachers have forgone stringent conservative rules for members, to grow their cult following of mostly millennials. In these churches, women bless babies and are not compelled to cover their hair.
Anyone who somehow misses the massive billboards that carry the church’s name could mistake a service for a music concert, or just any other social gathering for young people. Their pastors go live on Instagram, say prayers, host ClubHouse rooms and stream their services on YouTube or wherever on the internet it’s possible to stream anything.
Apostle Joshua Selman, a chemical engineer and head pastor at the Eternity Network International, is on the top 5 trending podcasts list on Apple Podcast every time of the year.
“People want to be where it is happening, part of the It crowd,” Onyinye who follows many of these pastors on Instagram said of their appeal to young Nigerians. “Young people want to be in a church where their pastors are trending, where they dress well and sing well. And they give young people opportunities for their career.”
What are they doing and why?
Okechukwu Eze, the chairman of The Transition and the pastor of the VI chapter of Dominion City said that the church put together the event “to support young and budding entrepreneurs to navigate getting started and growth in their businesses.”
“The church as a community is a big part of societal development,” Adannaya Goodness Armstrong who leads the career and business team at Dominion City, VI said.
“Our goal is to raise leaders that transform the society. So the focus is not just on spiritual development. It’s career development. its personal development. its leadership development.” she said. On the career team are multiple HR professionals who attend the church.
“I’m an HR professional by training. If that’s what I do in my work life, why can’t I bring that into my church life?” she said.
It wasn’t that these churches started out to specifically pursue careers for their members in tech. But as tech companies become the It place to work, many young Nigerians including Christians in these churches happen to work for tech companies or run tech startups. Occasionally, members will meet the HR team and tell them of a new opening at their office. The team will then share with qualified church members who might be interested.
Simeon Ononogbu has been a recipient of funds from the career and business department at Dominion City.
After a year of attending the church, his pastor called him and told him God has asked him to invest in his business. He said that the pastor also set up a team to guide him through as he used the funds to expand his business.
Now he says he had been able to establish two businesses; a studio and a food business, with funds from the church.
At Celebration Church, founded by Emmanuel Iren, who now has 226,000 followers on Instagram, there are multiple such communities that help professionals learn new skills and scale up their careers. The tech community in Celebration Church is led by Mayowa Ayodeji, who himself works as a consultant to many tech companies in the ecosystem.
The community is made up of backend and frontend engineers, cloud engineers and other in-demand professionals in the tech space. They gather together sometimes to rub minds together, teach others what they’ve learned, and give advice to people looking to come into the field.
Esther, who works closely with heads of some of these departments at Celebration Church said that these communities are important for “the gospel” to penetrate through the “world.”
She says that churches shouldn’t just seat behind the scenes, fold their arms and watch their members whisked out of the church because of opportunities, some of which the church is capable of providing.
For her, these communities are in themselves a form of the gospel.
“See, we are here to preach the gospel and the gospel has to be preached in every form,” Esther said. “The same way the world has influence everywhere is the same way we Christians need to get involved. We can’t just keep saying ‘it’s the world that does this.'”
Victoria who got a job at a tech startup through the employment network at her church has been working for almost a year now. When she was invited to apply by an HR consultant on the business and career team in church, she was also given knowledge of what to expect on the job.
For instance, she said she was told about the temperament of the people who became her bosses. Now she has been able to integrate herself better on the job. “I am a living example of how churches can help members accelerate their careers,” she said.
While the workshops are open to all, perks like job placement and business funding churches restrict to their core members, mostly people who have been in the church for over a year and are active. This is so, so they achieve their aim of actually retaining members in the fold.
Churches are doing all of this to help members see that service to the church can and will be rewarded in heaven but also here on earth. “We don’t have to be influenced by the world just to prove a point,” Esther said. “No, we don’t have to.”
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