The largest-attendance church in Western Europe certainly doesn’t draw its crowds because of a prominent facility or great location. Kingsway International Christian Centre’s current primary campus is in north London in a converted theater buried in a long row of small shops on a minor street nowhere near a major highway – although a bus stop is across the street and a subway stop 1/4 mile away.
Yet this unassuming interim facility of a church started in a school in 1992 with 300 people is the biggest congregation in Great Britain since Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in the 1800s. It has also started 33 satellites and church plants from across London to Lagos, Nigeria.
On Sunday my wife and I worshipped there and found a welcome culture everywhere we turned. We entered late and immediately stood out as visitors. Two clues: (1) I was overdressed – an effort to show respect since I had asked to interview Senior Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo between services (see upcoming blog) and (2) it was hard to be inconspicuous in a tiny foyer that holds at most 20 people. Yet an usher in the foyer welcomed us warmly, a second usher in the balcony graciously found us one of the few remaining seats (a chair for my wife and a floor spot for me), several people said welcoming words during two different service times –- one to recognize newcomers and one to greet your neighbor, and finally an after-service meeting for first timers was personal and authentic. This church made the most of its limited facility and definitely wants to reach out to newcomers.
Why This Church?
I tried to imagine why this church draws 8,000 and more people each week. The focus of the worship and preaching was Jesus Christ, including generous reference to Scripture with a Pentecostal prosperity gospel interpretation. The church has also placed heavy emphasis on TV broadcasting from London to Africa, which has drawn many attenders as Nigerian-born Pastor Matthew is a compelling preacher and charismatic leader. I suspect another reason for their amazing growth is the multi-national character, heavily from Africa but including many other nations. It is also a great match for both immigrant and resident Christians looking for a place they can fit in socially and grow spiritually. In fact I was very impressed by the intentional pathway they take for leadership development: a sequence of membership, cell group leadership, role as deacon or ministry head, and potentially training for full-time ministry. There is a strong underlying empowerment theme whether or not you’re a leader.
I have visited and blogged about the largest attendance church in several other countries, most recently China, Korea and Singapore. I’m curious why those particular congregations have gathered such momentum. If you have perspective on why, please add a comment below. Please also see my global list of the world’s largest churches at www.leadnet.org/world.