Analysis of LDS Growth in Benin City, Nigeria
Author: Matt Martinich
Posted: March 2012
Updated: January 6th, 2014
Located in south central Nigeria, Benin City had an estimated 1.48 million inhabitants and ranked as the seven most populous city in Nigeria in late 2013. The LDS Church has appeared to maintain a presence in the city for three decades and has experienced rapid growth within the past decade.
This case study provides limited background information on Benin City and a brief summary of the history of the LDS Church in the city. Past church growth successes are examined and opportunities and challenges for future growth are discussed. Other major cities in Sub-Saharan Africa that have experienced rapid growth over the past two decades are identified and these growth trends are compared to the Church's growth trends in Benin City. A synopsis of the size and growth of other missionary-focused Christian groups that operate in Benin City is provided. Limitations to this case study are identified and prospects for future growth are predicted.
Benin City Background
Forested plains and farmland cover most the terrain surrounding Benin City. The climate is tropical and marked by distinct wet and dry seasons. Benin City is the administrative capital of Edo State and center of Nigeria’s rubber industry. Several prominent schools and universities are also headquartered in Benin City. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the kingdom of Benin became one of the most powerful kingdoms in present-day Nigeria. Benin City played an important role in the Nigerian Civil War as Biafran forces proclaimed Edo State as the Republic of Benin. Nigerian troops captured the city the following day however. One of Nigeria’s official languages, Edo is the traditional language spoken in the Benin City area. Many speak English as a second language. Edo State appears wealthier than most Nigerian states as it ranks seventh by GDP but only 24th by population. Christianity is the prominent religion but there are small numbers of Muslims and followers of traditional religious beliefs.
The Church appeared to organize its first congregation in Benin City sometime in the early or mid 1980s; less than a decade after the Church established its initial presence in Nigeria. The LDS Church achieved rapid congregational growth during the following decades as the number of congregations increased from nine in 1993 to 16 in 2001, 36 in 2010, and 42 in 2013.
Rapid stake growth has also occurred within the past two decades. In 1988, one district operated in Benin City. In 1993, the district became a stake. At the time the stake also included the city of Warri in Delta State where one branch operated. Warri later became its own district in 1999. The original Benin City Nigeria Stake was later renamed the Benin City Nigeria Ihogbe Stake when additional stakes were organized. The Benin City Nigeria Stake initially included the following five wards and five branches: The Adesuwa, Esigie, Oliha, Ugbowo, and Uzebu Wards and the Ihogbe, Ikpokpan, Okhoro, Uselu, and Warri Branches. The Church has since organized four additional stakes, namely the Benin City Nigeria Ikpokpan Stake in 1997, the Benin City Nigeria New Benin Stake in 2006, the Benin City Nigeria Siluoko Stake in 2012, and the Benin City Nigeria Ugbowo Stake in 2012. In late 2013, there were 10 wards and one branch in the Benin City Nigeria Ugbowo Stake, 10 wards in the Benin City Nigeria New Benin Stake, eight wards in the Benin City Nigeria Ikpokpan Stake, seven wards in the Benin City Nigeria Ihogbe Stake, and six wards in the Benin City Nigeria Siluoko Stake. Maps of stakes, wards, and branches in the city are available for 1993, 2001, 2011, and present day.
In 2002, Benin City was assigned to the newly created Nigeria Ibadan Mission and in 2009 was reassigned to the Benin City Enugu Mission. In 2013, the Church organized the Nigeria Benin City Mission from a division of the Nigeria Enugu and Nigeria Lagos Missions.
Rapid congregational growth over the past two decades has been the crowning achievement for the LDS Church in Benin City. New congregations organized over the past two decades have been well distributed throughout the entire city. In the past five years, the most rapid congregational growth has occurred in northern and eastern areas in locations which did not previously have wards. For example, in 2001 there were no wards in the Aduwawa area – in the extreme eastern area of the city – but by mid-2010 there were three wards in the Aduwawa area (Aduwawa, Ohovbe, and Oregbeni). The Benin City Nigeria New Benin Stake had six wards when initially organized in late 2007 and by mid-2010 there were 15 wards within the stake. Prolific congregational growth has occurred from opening new wards in lesser-reached neighborhoods on the periphery of the city and creating additional wards in well-established areas.
Comparing the current number of units and their geographic location in each of the three stakes with the original number of units in the first stake in 1993 provides excellent insight into assessing the magnitude of congregational growth by different areas of the city. The area previously covered by the Ugbowo and Esigie Wards and Okhoro and Uselu Branches in the original Benin City Nigeria Stake has become 20 wards and one branch within the Benin City Nigeria New Benin and Benin City Ugbowo Stakes, the area previously covered by the Oliha Ward and Ihogbe Branch has become over 10 wards within the Benin City Nigeria Ihogbe and Benin City Nigeria Siluoko Stakes, and the area previously covered by the Adesuwa and Uzebu Wards and Ikpokpan Branch has become over 10 wards within the Benin City Nigeria Ihogbe and Benin City Nigeria Ikpokpan Stakes. To date there have not appeared to be any wards or branches that have closed.
No other major Nigerian city has as dense of a concentration of Latter-day Saints and LDS congregations as Benin City. Consequently the Church extends its most penetrating urban outreach in Benin City among Nigerian cities with at least half a million inhabitants. The average ward or branch in Benin City currently has approximately 35,200 inhabitants within its geographical boundaries whereas the average ward in Aba has approximately 50,000 inhabitants, the average ward or branch in Port Harcourt has 65,500 inhabitants, the average branch in Ibadan has 414,300 inhabitants, and the average ward or branch in Lagos has 507,700 inhabitants. The high density of LDS congregations permits efficient missionary activity through close proximity of most the urban population to LDS meetinghouses. The small geographic area that encompasses most wards allows for mission and ward leaders to focus on specific communities and localize outreach efforts.
Current socioeconomic conditions, the societal emphasis on weekly participation in religious activities, the predominantly Christian population, and the weak ethnoreligious link between many Nigerians in Benin City to a particular Christian denomination has made much of the population highly receptive to the LDS Church and its teachings. The Church has capitalized on excellent levels of receptivity through efficient use of mission resources, active member-missionary programs, strong self-sufficiency of local leadership, and willingness to expand outreach into lesser-reached neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city.
Previous distance from mission headquarters originally in Ibadan and later in Enugu has likely contributed to optimal levels of interaction with mission leaders that has generated the high degree of self sufficiency exhibited by the Church in Benin City. Travel times did not appear to seriously restrict visits from mission and area leaders but were long enough to be an inconvenience. The Church appears to have provided many leaders with sufficient training to meet their administrative responsibilities but has not held their hand in the process. The organization of a separate mission based in Benin City in 2013 provides for greater mission resource allocation at a time when local leadership development has been good and where additional opportunities are available for church planting and expansion.
The sizable population of Benin City presents excellent opportunities for continuing outreach expansion. Many people reside in areas without a ward or branch nearby. Locations which may present some of the best opportunities for outreach expansion within Benin City include communities along the Benin-Agbor Highway between Aduwawa and Iguomo, communities along the Benin Auchi Road between Aduwawa and Idumwunha, extreme northern Benin City around Idunmwowina, communities on the western fringe of Benin City such as Use and Ogogugbo, and many lesser-reached communities in southern Benin City such as Akenzua, Ivbiore, Ekae, Ewbodia, Ogbe Ibuya, and Ihimwinhin.
The Church operates only one branch in towns and villages surrounding Benin City. Nearly all major Nigerian cities with an LDS presence have several wards and branches in nearby suburban and rural communities. Oftentimes the Church is introduced to these locations through member-missionary efforts. Prospects for rapid church growth appear high in urban centers surrounding Benin City due to easy accessibility from mission headquarters and possibly high receptivity in these communities that is comparable to receptivity levels within urban areas of Benin City. In 2010, the Church organized its first district outside of Benin City approximately 100 kilometers to the northeast in Ekpoma. Rapid growth has also occurred in Ekpoma and an initial church presence appears to have started from active members relocating to this area within the past decade. The number of branches in the district increased from two in 2007 to 10 in 2013. Similar results may occur if outreach is extended into communities within close proximity of Benin City. Virtually no outreach has occurred in these locations for reasons that are not entirely clear as it is conceivable that many members likely have personal contacts with individuals living in nearby towns and villages but the rapid growth of the Church in Benin City has likely consumed all available mission resources, leaving none to allot to nearby less populous towns and villages.
Rapid membership growth and high receptivity create administrative challenges for local and mission leaders to train new leaders and staff additional congregations. Approximately half of church membership likely joined the Church within the past decade. There may be a shortage of trained and qualified Melchizedek Priesthood holders to staff both stake presidencies and ward bishoprics as evidenced by the large number of wards in each of the three stakes at present. Considering new stakes are generally organized with a minimum of five wards, the Church could potentially organize three additional stakes with the number of wards currently operating in Benin City.
Poverty presents many difficulties and challenges for membership to become more self-sufficient. Living standards are low and many have their basic needs unmet. A lack of economic development and financial security among Latter-day Saints presents challenges for the Church to draw upon local tithing funds to construct, renovate, and rent spaces for meetinghouses. Funding for church-built chapels constructed in Benin City likely originates from outside Nigeria due to economic constraints of native membership. Ongoing church growth in Benin City may require greater financial support from the international church to keep up with meeting local needs in the coming years.
Distance from mission headquarters prior to 2013 and limited numbers of full-time missionaries assigned to Nigeria have likely contributed to the lack of an LDS presence in towns and villages surrounding Benin City. The enormous Nigerian population serviced by a handful of missions has made efforts to assign missionaries to towns and villages surrounding Benin City impractical as many of Nigeria’s most populous cities remain entirely unreached by the Church.
The Church has no translations of church materials or scriptures into Edo notwithstanding a million native speakers in Nigeria clustered in the Benin City area. Church members and leaders likely utilize English or translations of church materials and scriptures in other Nigerian languages for study.
The Church in Benin City has experienced the most rapid congregational growth of any Nigerian city over the past decade. The Church has experienced congregational growth of a comparable magnitude to Benin City in some major cities in other African nations. In Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo the number of LDS units increased from eight in 1991 to 21 in 2001 and 45 in 2011. In Accra, Ghana the number of LDS units increased from 16 in 2001 to 45 in 2011. In Johannesburg, South Africa the number of LDS units increased from 32 in 2001 to 50 in 2011. In Antananarivo, Madagascar the number of LDS units increased from one in 1991 to seven in 2001 and 18 in 2011.
The LDS Church in Benin City is larger than some missionary-focused Christian groups but smaller than others. However, the LDS Church appears to number among the fastest growing denominations. Many other missionary-minded groups such as evangelicals appear to achieve consistent rapid growth and have sizable followings of members throughout Benin City and Edo State. Jehovah's Witnesses maintain a pervasive presence in Benin City and in early 2014 reported 161 congregations. Witnesses operate congregations that provide services in English (137), Edo (21), and American Sign Language (3). The Seventh Day Adventists Church reports a more limited presence than the LDS Church or Jehovah's Witnesses. In 2012, Adventists reported approximately 14,000 members, 46 churches (large congregations), and 80 companies (small congregations) in Delta and Edo States combined whereas in 2013 the LDS Church had 72 churches and possibly over 25,000 members in these two states combined.
The Church does not publish the annual number of converts baptized per district, stake, mission, country, or church area. The Church does not publish the annual number of members per administrative division or city in Nigeria. Few reports were available from local members or church leaders, mission leaders, and returned or current full-time missionaries. No data is available regarding the ethnic composition of the Church in Benin City.
The outlook for future LDS growth in Benin City appears good as congregational growth has been ongoing, two of the five stakes appear close to dividing, outreach has expanded into peripheral areas within the past five years, and receptivity remains high. Due to distance from Aba and the high concentration of Latter-day Saints in a small geographic area, the Church may one day construct a temple in Benin City.
 “The Principal Agglomerations of the World,” www.citypopulation.de, retrieved 1 February 2012. http://www.citypopulation.de/world/Agglomerations.html
 “Background Note: Nigeria,” Bureau of African Affairs, 20 October 2011. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2836.htm
 “Edo State – About Edo,” www.edostate.gov/ng, retrieved 3 February 2012. http://www.edostate.gov.ng/about-edo
 “List of Nigerian states by GDP,” en.wikipedia.org, retrieved 3 February 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nigerian_states_by_GDP
 "Nigeria marks twin milestones," LDS Church News, 21 May 1988. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/19779/New-regional-representatives.html
 "Congregation Meeting Search," retrieved 6 January 2014. http://www.jw.org/apps/E_FRNsPnPBrTZGT?
 “Edo-Delta Conference (2002 – Present),” www.adventiststatistics.org, retrieved 6 January 2014. http://www.adventiststatistics.org/view_Summary.asp?FieldID=C10152