When someone sits down to write the history of Black majority churches in Britain over the past 20 years, one name that will loom large is that of Nigerian-born leader, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo. He was one of the first Black church leaders in the UK to lead a mega church and to heavily utilise media as an evangelism tool.
The church, Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC), also organises one of the most popular church conferences – the International Gathering of Champions – which attracts large audiences to hear some of the world’s most well known speakers. KICC has moved on from being just a mega church; it now has branches across the UK, as well as in others parts of the world and, for many, remains a beacon of what can be achieved when a church focuses on reaching the world with the Gospel. Pastor Matthew spoke to Keep The Faith about Prayer City, the new building complex the church has bought in Chatham, Kent; using media to spread the Gospel, and the role of the Black Church in helping to usher in revival here in the UK.
KEEP THE FAITH (KTF): KICC has recently started holding services in a new building in Chatham, Kent. What inspired you to buy a place of worship in Kent?
PASTOR MATTHEW ASHIMOLOWO (PMA): God has been good to KICC in providing us with Prayer City. It has been a seven-year journey, where we have had to undergo many trials and challenges in pursuit of a permanent place of rest.When Great Britain was celebrating winning the Olympic bid, KICC had to face the fact that they no longer had a place of worship at Waterden Road in Hackney, where it had a 4,000-seater auditorium on 9.5 acres of land. It was a difficult time for us, as we had achieved so many great historical moments there.
KTF: I understand your new building can house up to 3,000 people. Aside from being a place of worship, what other plans do you have for your new building?
PMA: We have so many great plans for the 12 buildings on the 24-acre site. These include:
The Prayer City Garden – This specially-designed area, set in the beautiful landscape of the Buckmore woodlands, is an ideal place for those who want to pray, meditate and spend time in reflection, in God’s presence.
The Joseph Academy is a huge two-storey building, designated as the base for TNT, our youth ministry. It is where young people aged 13 – 19 will be empowered through powerful teaching from the Word.
Rhoda’s House – The large building has been converted into a large auditorium for the main services of King’s Kids ministry, our children’s church.
Restaurant and Gym – Visitors will enjoy excellent cuisine prepared in our fully industrial kitchen, with top class service in our brand new restaurant. We’ll also have state-of-the-art gym facilities.
Retreat Houses – Prayer City will provide an idyllic destination for short breaks, family getaways and church retreats to visitors local and abroad. We also have plans to construct a world class hotel within Prayer City for public use.
A Theme Park – Future plans include development of a family theme park, open to members and visitors, which can be used as an outreach to engage members of the community with the church.
KTF: KICC is known for opening the largest church building in the UK for 100 years, and for being one of Britain’s largest Black mega churches. How has KICC developed since that historic opening?
PMA: KICC has grown in so many ways since 1998. We have expanded the ministry by focusing on increasing our chapels, opening city churches, and planting churches overseas. As a result of this church growth strategy, we now have over 20 Chapels and Branch churches in the UK. They are situated in and around the M25, and also in Birmingham, Luton, Milton Keynes, Manchester, Bedford, Bristol and our latest one in Oxford.
Internationally, we have added Namibia, Malawi, South Africa and Ireland, to Nigeria and Ghana. We have also seen God’s increase in Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria. Ghana and Nigeria now oversee 4 and 11 Branch Churches respectively.
I would add that we have never marketed KICC as a ‘Black church’. It is true that 95% of our members are of African and African-Caribbean descent, but everyone is welcome at our services.
KTF: You are one of the first Black church leaders in Britain to have a successful TV ministry; utilise media to grow your church, and lead a mega church. What inspired you to factor media in to your church growth plans?
PMA: KICC’s vision is ‘To Grow Up, To Grow Big and To Grow Together’. It has always been one of the cornerstones of the vision ‘To Grow Big’, using every medium available to reach the lost. We have found our television ministry to be a powerful tool for reaching the unsaved and for strengthening believers. Our television ministry has been able to reach countries and homes that we would not physically be able to reach. Currently, our TV ministry broadcasts into more than 100 million homes, over 120 nations throughout Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
KTF: Do you think churches that want to grow should factor in utilising media in some kind of way in their vision for their church and, if so, why?
PMA: I believe that each church should follow the mandate the Lord has given them. It has always been, from the start of KICC, a tool the Lord has wanted us to use to advance the Kingdom. We believe in using timely technology to preach the timeless truth. As a result of our obedience to His mandate for our ministry, we have seen the fruit, and have harvested thousands of souls as a result.
KTF: Not many people know about Matthew Ashimolowo, the person. Where and when were you born, how many siblings do you have, and what was your childhood like?
PMA: I was born in Kaduna, which is in the northern part of Nigeria. I was born to Muslim parents, and I am the middle child. I have an older brother and a younger sister.
As the son of a military officer, my father was constantly transferred on official duties, and this meant our family was always on the move. My father died in the Biafran War, and this led me to be looked after by guardians. It was not an easy childhood, but I believe all of my experiences have shaped my life, and have caused me to challenge all the people I meet or have the opportunity to minister to, to live a life of success, triumphing over adversity. I believe strongly that, through prayer and living a life of purity, and where there is a will to follow and apply the Word of God to your life, you will win against all the odds. I did, and I challenge others to do likewise. I have not looked back since I gave my life to Christ in a drunken state at the age of 22.
KTF: What role did religion and faith play in your upbringing, and what inspired you to become a Christian?
PMA: I gave my life to Christ in a drunken state at the age of 22, so I can’t say I was inspired! I was at home, saw a tract on the floor and read it. The impact of the tract was such that I said the Sinner’s Prayer alone in that room. I thank God for an aunt, who subsequently took me to church, and for my one and only pastor, who noticed and nurtured the grace of God on my life. From the age of 22, I have been sold out to Christ and to the advancement of His Kingdom, and I have enjoyed every minute of it!
KTF: When did you get the call to ministry, and how did you go about pursuing that call?
PMA: Shortly after I gave my life to Christ, I started to attend Christ Apostolic Church. I was introduced to this church by my Aunt. In the early months of being at the church, the Pastor began to nurture the call of God on my life.
He began to use me in various ministry capacities, to help develop my ministry. At around the same time of this happening, an evangelist visited the ministry, and advised that I went to Bible School.
Since leaving Bible School, I continued to pursue knowledge and development. I believe it has been one of the things that has helped me to personally grow with the ministry God has entrusted to me.
KTF: What made you decide to immigrate to England, and what was your view of the spiritual landscape upon arriving here?
PMA: England was not my choice. I originally wanted to study in Canada. However, that was my plan; God’s was different. In 1984, the Foursquare denomination that I was with, sent me to England as a missionary. Sincerely speaking, I found the land cold and the people cold. Having left a growing congregation of over 2,000 to become a Pastor of 11 adults was initially discouraging. The few young people who eventually joined would often disappear to other ministries once I finished service, and the older ones at first did not seem to be receptive to the Word of God like what I had been used to. After the first year, I told my wife to read all she wanted, because I wanted to leave as soon as she finished! Now, of course, I am glad I broke through the discouragement, the coldness of the climate, and what appeared to be the lack of reception of the people.
Once I changed my view, the people started to come to the ministry.
KTF: Which churches and Christians provided you with inspiration when you arrived here?
PMA: Victory Church and the New Testament Church (Mile End).
KTF: Looking back on your years serving the church, what are the key lessons you’ve learnt about God, life and leading a high profile ministry?
- It is important to have a clear vision for people to follow.
- It is important to constantly refer to the vision on a regular basis, so people can maintain and run with it.
- Training and discipleship – Build and strengthen your leaders and stewards.
- Prayer changes everything. Everything KICC owns and has achieved, has been through being on our knees.
- Not to be afraid to stand on your own when it is God’s principles you are standing for.
- To be bold and courageous in declaring God’s Word, even when it is not socially acceptable.
- The media works when used to promote the Kingdom.
- Leadership can be isolating and a lonely walk.
- Passion and being purpose driven can lead to others misunderstanding your motives and what you stand for.
- Pioneers lead the way for others to follow.
- God is faithful; whatever He has promised, He always provides.
- Lead by example.
- Sow your way to victory, and watch God honour your sacrifice.
- The power of positive confession.
- For the first 18 years, I sacrificed my personal ministry for growing KICC. By the time I started to venture out on personal ministry assignments, KICC was at a level of growth that could stand my absences.
KTF: One of the most difficult times in your ministry must have been when the Charity Commission investigated KICC. Looking back, what are your feelings about that period, and how has your church moved forward since then?
PMA: We have risen to greater heights. The challenges were great, but God saw us through. We had grown so quickly that we had little time to adjust some of our processes. The Charity Commission went through our processes with
a fine-toothed comb, and we adopted new governance procedures which reflected our ministry size. We are pleased to say, they required little change to our operational procedures. What has brought solace is the fact they have also began to use some of the processes we had developed as a standard for other churches to follow. We have now moved on from this, and we are now in a new season.
KTF: When you’re not preaching or travelling, what kind of things do you like to do?
PMA: Spending time with my family, and playing golf.
KTF: What role do you think Black churches will play in forthcoming years, in helping facilitate revival here in the UK?
PMA: The potential is great for the Black Church to play a major role in helping to facilitate revival in the UK. However, it is dependent on how badly we want to be used by God to bring it about. It will require us to be relevant and radical in our approach to win souls.
KTF: What message of hope would you like to leave with Keep The Faith readers?
PMA: It’s not over ’til God says so.
For more details about KICC, visit www.kicc.org.uk