Growing church with Nigerian roots seeks new space in Prince George, B.C.
Redeemed Christian Church of God members meeting in industrial neighbourhood until permanent location found
While churches across Canada struggle with dwindling congregations, one tucked into an industrial neighbourhood of Prince George, B.C., has the opposite problem: membership has rapidly grown, but a suitable location for services is tough to find.
The Prince George branch of the Redeemed Christian Church of God held its first service in a hotel room in December 2010. Aside from Pastor Victor Folorunso and his family, there were just two people in attendance — one of whom moved away shortly afterward.
But Folorunso stuck with his mission to establish a church in the city and now around 150 people gather every Sunday to sing and pray in a neighbourhood better known for selling car parts and home repair services.
Folorunso has been searching for a more suitable location, but the search took on a new urgency Monday when Prince George city council granted its final extension on the temporary use permit that allows services to be held in a building zoned for light industrial purposes.
The difficulty, he explained, is finding a space that can accommodate the size and needs of the church while still being affordable.
Harry Backlin, the Realtor hired to help find a space, said there are few areas available in the city that are zoned for religious purposes.
Growth driven by newcomers to Canada
The Redeemed Christian Church of God's search comes as other churches in the region are experiencing declines in membership.
In December 2017, Prince George's oldest continuously-running church held its final service due to a dwindling congregation and on Wednesday, the 110-year-old First Presbyterian Church in Prince Rupert held its final service for the same reason.
Similar stories are playing out across the country, from Saskatoon to New Brunswick.
Folorunso said his church has been able to buck the trend, in part, because its members are made up largely of newcomers to Canada, primarily from Nigeria where the church was founded but also Jamaica, India and the United States.
Established in Lagos, Nigeria in 1952, the Redeemed Christian Church of God is a Pentecostal church that has since spread around the world.
Folorunso said most of his members are professionals — doctors, engineers and professors — as well as their families and international students studying at the local college and university.
Folorunso, himself, came to Prince George from Nigeria in December 2010, called upon to establish a ministry in northern British Columbia.
"It snowed ... I've never seen anything like that," he said. "But I believed if people lived here and survived here, we could give it a try."
Because so many of his members are new to the country, Folorunso said he also wants a location accessible by city transit for those who don't have a vehicle.
Though city council was supportive of allowing the church to stay in its current location, provincial rules limit how long temporary use permits can be put in place. After 2021, the church will either have to move, or the city will have to rezone the lot permanently.
Coun. Jillian Merrick suggested it would be useful for the city to consider that option, as the area is increasingly being used for non-industrial purposes, including a coffee shop geared toward parents with children and a Salvation Army branch and thrift store.
"We've had a number of temporary use permits [from this neighbourhood]," she said. "[It's] an industrial zone that no longer seems to fit."