Benin City is the largest city in Edo State, Nigeria and perhaps the location where the most rapid, self-sustaining growth The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has experienced over the past two years. To meet the needs of growing active membership, wards have grown from around 22 at the end of 2007 to 36 currently. The most recently organized of the three stakes in Benin City, the Benin City Nigeria New Benin Stake, had just six wards when it was created in late 2007. Today there are 15 wards in the stake. The other two stakes - the Benin City Nigeria Ihogbe and Benin City Nigeria Ikpokpan Stakes - have grown from around half a dozen wards in late 2007 to 11 and 10, respectively. Stakes typically divide outside the United States once they exceed 10 wards, so Church leadership could potentially create three new stakes simultaneously with six wards each from the three preexisting stakes.
So what has led to this acceleration of LDS Church growth in Benin City? I will first provide a short historical background about the Church in Benin City and then offer some explanations.
With the exception of the past couple years, congregations grew at an annual rate of one to two new congregations over the past two decades. The Benin City Nigeria District was created before 1989 and was part of the Nigeria Lagos Mission. The Benin City Nigeria Stake was organized in 1993 with five wards and five branches, some of which were to the south in Warri. In 1997, a second stake was organized with five wards and three branches. Following the creation of the Warri Nigeria District in 1999, all congregations in the two stakes met in Benin City. Sometime in the mid-2000s or later, the Nigeria Enugu Mission began administering Benin City.
One of the important principles concerning LDS Church growth often neglected in its study and discussion is that a critical mass of active membership is often reached prior to large increases in membership and congregations. This appears a major component driving the recent growth in Benin City. Many nations in Latin America illustrate this principle as there was relatively little success attracting large numbers of converts during the first decades missionaries labored in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Mexico. In the late 1960s and 1970s, membership in these nations reached a level which allowed for expanding national outreach. This appears to be the result of developing local leadership and increasing the number of native missionaries. For example, in 1970, Mexico had one stake and Brazil had two stakes. A decade later Mexico had 53 stakes and Brazil had 18 stakes. In the past decade, growth has slowed substantially in these nations possibly due to a slow down in expanding national outreach, lower receptivity to the Church's teachings, and decades of poor convert retention failing to produce greater numbers of active full member families, missionaries, and leaders.
Nigeria and Ghana have been uniquely receptive to the Church and its teachings among African nations. Unlike most African nations, initial mission efforts in Nigeria focused among groups of individuals who primarily lived in rural communities. Wards and stakes today function in small villages in rural areas in the southeast, but require a greater number of congregations to reach a larger geographic area, resulting in a limitation toward reaching the critical mass required for greater, consistent growth. Many of the largest cities in non-Islamic areas have a congregation today, but have been unable to develop a critical mass of membership to reproduce the rapid growth the Church experienced in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. Nigeria has also depended on African missionaries to staff its full-time missionary force, increasing self-sufficiency and providing leadership for future growth.
It appears that after years of adding one or two congregations annually, a critical mas has been finally reached in Benin City. Benin City now appears to have the highest density of congregations out of any Nigerian city. Edo States carries its own unique traditions and history, which may have contributed to greater receptivity to LDS Church teachings and mission outreach. Time will only tell whether this recent trend of accelerated congregational growth in Benin City will continue. Some other cities in Africa have also appeared to have reached or will soon reach a critical mass in active membership to allow for greater, consistent growth which include Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Antananarivo, Accra, and Abidjan.