How the Prosperity Gospel Works

Prosperity Gospel Around the Globe

Yoido Full Gospel Church, South Korea Yoido Full Gospel Church, South Korea
Ushers bow to parishioners leaving Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea. It's the largest church in the world. Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

From Africa to Asia to South America, there is no greater force in global Christianity than the prosperity gospel. The phenomenon is fueled by exploding urban populations, social and political upheaval, and a growing middle class with aspirations for greater wealth.

Nigeria has been swept up by an old-school charismatic form of Pentecostalism — lots of speaking in tongues and ecstatic dancing — boosted by a prosperity message that caters to the nation's restless entrepreneurial spirit and disillusionment with government corruption. Lagos, with a population of 20 million, is home to four prosperity megachurches with average Sunday attendance in excess of 30,000 people each. One even has 75,000 attenders [source: Bird]. The megachurches are not only centers of worship, but they do provide essential social services for thousands of migrants who arrive in Lagos daily in search of work [source: Lenora Brown].

In Asia, Christianity is spreading 10 times faster than in Europe, and Singapore is home to several huge prosperity congregations, including the 30,000-member New Creation Church led by the charismatic pastor Joseph Prince. Unlike Nigeria, where the popularity of the prosperity gospel is fueled by upward mobility, the audience in Singapore is largely young, single and financially comfortable. They're drawn in by the dynamic form of worship, which includes pop music concerts, a strong social media presence and a "wealth-affirming" theology that's in stark contrast to their parents' Buddhism. The largest church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel, is in South Korea and has more than 800,000 members [source: Philomin].

In Brazil, where unemployment hovers at 13 percent and millions live in the urban squalor of favelas, the prosperity gospel attempts to provide a solution to widespread economic desperation. In a nation that was once dominated by Catholicism, now a quarter of Brazilians are Pentecostal. Pastors in Brazil emphasize self-improvement through prayer, self-discipline and clean living (no drinking or drugs), plus making generous donations to the church. One of Sao Paolo's most infamous prosperity churches seats 12,000 and was built to resemble King Solomon's temple [source: Pulliam Bailey].

In an interesting twist, missionaries and pastors from Africa, Asia and Latin American are bringing the prosperity back to predominantly Christian nations in Europe and even the U.S. Nine out of the top 20 missionary-sending countries are found in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and four of Britain's 10 largest churches were founded by Nigerians, including the Nigerian Redeemed Christian Church of God, the fastest-growing church in the U.K. [source: Lenora Brown].