The rise and rise of church billboards in Kenya

If you commute to work in any of Kenya’s major towns, it is becoming increasingly clear that towering billboards, once adorned with advertisements from big companies are undergoing a transformation.

These strategically positioned towers now proudly display church advertisements. On one corner of the city, the adverts are predominantly inviting people to night worship sessions, or revival meetings. Huge advertisements are also on display, inviting the public to attend concerts or highly publicized crusades by an American pastor or gospel artiste.

The post-COVID crisis, coupled with seemingly endless high inflationary pressures is providing fertile ground for churches to flourish, offering hope for a better tomorrow.

This phenomenon has given rise to megachurches, religious conferences, and national/regional rallies, all prominently advertised on these billboards.

In contrast, during economic downturns and inflation spikes, businesses often slash their advertising budgets due to financial constraints, resulting in fewer commercial billboards. However, churches and religious organizations seem less affected, thanks to steady revenues through donations and tithes.

As firms cut ad spending, churches seem unbothered

Billboards are the crown jewel of Kenya’s multi-billion-shillings advertising industry. These towering giants of marketing find their homes in some of the most strategic and high-traffic areas across towns and cities, ensuring their messages reach a captive audience of drivers and pedestrians alike.

In the capital of Nairobi, the price tag for running a billboard ad ranges from Kes160,000 to Kes500,000 per month. However, there is a season when the demand for these towering canvases reaches a fever pitch – Kenya’s campaign season.

During this electrifying period, the cost of securing a standard billboard can skyrocket to Kes500,000 per month. As political contenders vie for voters’ attention and support, these colossal displays become prime real estate for conveying their messages and promises.

Interestingly, while digital advertising may sometimes fall victim to ad-blocking software or quick deletions, it appears that churches have found an unmissable mark with these mammoth out-of-home displays.

In Kenya, churches have embraced billboards as a powerful tool to share their messages of faith, salvation, and mobilisation for “divine gatherings”, often graced by overseas televangelists.

The cost of billboards varies across the nation, reflecting regional disparities in demand and demographics. In Mombasa, for instance, prices range from Kes150,000 to Kes500,000 per month, while Kisumu sees rates between Kes100,000 and Kes350,000 per month. Whether in Eldoret, Nakuru, or the scenic Mount Kenya region, billboards have become a ubiquitous presence, silently speaking to Kenyan society.

Numerous studies indicate that in challenging times, people turn to their religious or spiritual beliefs for solace and optimism. This leads to increased attendance at religious services, prayer, and guidance-seeking from spiritual leaders.

Pastor Hinn Kenya visit

Last week, the trend to turn to religious leaders for solace and optimism appeared to have gone a step too far when news that US Pastor Benny Hinn was set for a government-sponsored faith healing crusade in Kenya broke out. Kenyans on X, formerly Twitter, broke into endless banter following reports that the Israeli-born American-Canadian televangelist was coming to Kenya at the invitation of the governement.

An undated clip, featuring the good pastor regaling his congregation with an extraordinary tale emerged. According to Benny Hinn, a rather unexpected visitor from a distant land graced his church in Orlando, Florida. This esteemed guest turned out to be none other than Kenya’s First Lady Rachel Ruto, accompanied by her entourage.

Now, it’s not every day that you hear of a First Lady embarking on an international pilgrimage to meet a preacher, especially one located thousands of miles away. But according to Pastor Hinn, the First Lady’s mission was clear: to extend an invitation, or should we say, make a “divine” request.

In his characteristic dramatic style, Pastor Hinn declared, “Something amazing happened.” He paused for effect. “The First Lady of Kenya flew from Nairobi with her team, just for one reason: to ask me to come back to Nairobi for a nationwide government-sponsored crusade,” he announced.

It was an unprecedented moment, one that even Pastor Hinn, a man well-versed in the world of faith and miracles, found astonishing. He went on to reveal that this invitation extended beyond Kenya’s borders, encompassing neighboring Uganda as well.

It’s noteworthy that in Kenya, where the GDP per capita is the lowest among 34 nations ($4,509 in 2019), 95 percent of respondents view belief in God as integral to morality, according to Pew research on religion.

Dr. Kenneth Pargament, a leading expert in religion and resilience, notes that religion has evolved from being perceived as an immature response to adversity.

Meanwhile, brands and companies have embraced technology and leveraged social media for advertising due to its interactive nature, in stark contrast to static billboards. Staying abreast of trends has become paramount in the advertising landscape.”

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