Dr. Ope Banwo, pastor and the Visioner at The Cyber Embassy, in this interview, speaks about the preparations for the forthcoming 50-Acts Gospel musical concert tagged ‘Worship Without Walls’ being organized by the online-based Christian ministry.Excerpts…
You are not a stranger to music promotion. But promoting virtually Gospel musical artistes online, is that the business aspect of running your internet-based ministry?
Yes, The Cyber Embassy is a full-fledged 100% online church and since worship is one of the key directorates in any church of God, we have no choice but to go hard at the online promotion of gospel music since our habitat as a church is the internet. I take that responsibility very seriously just like I take the other key purposes of a full-fledged online church very seriously too, like Netvangelism, eMinistry, eFellowship and eDiscipleship. Since we do worship exclusively online at The Cyber Embassy, it makes 100% sense to promote gospel artistes online. As far as I am concerned, every gospel music downloaded or listened to online is part of the Great Commission, whether the musician identifies with The Cyber Embassy or not. The concept of church membership is actually changing though many pastors are still thinking of church membership as physical identification with one local church. Internet works different and we are excited to promote gospel artistes online. We will leave the offline promotion to others.
How have you seen the music industry change since you rested Stingomania?Yes. The music industry has indeed changed bigly and mostly for the better with more exposure and more income opportunities for everyone. I am frankly incredibly happy for many artistes making gains now. However, I still feel many of our artistes, Gospel or otherwise, just like the pastors, do not really appreciate the power of the internet to magnify their careers even without a music label. The popular ones are leaving a lot of money on the table while the up and coming ones are mostly ignorant that the power to explode their career is in their own hands and not in the hands of record labels. They instinctively know there is power in Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites but they lack the comprehensive knowledge on how to maximize the internet. It is part of my mission in life to help them broaden their knowledge and focus on this area.
Your forthcoming concert, Worship Without Walls, is not the first of its type. But you tag it the biggest ever, what are the new things you are adding to your show?
Well, I know, somehow, when I use some carefully chosen adjectives like ‘the first’ or ‘the biggest’ or ‘most impactful’ to describe what I am doing, the initial reaction is to doubt it, and see it as hype, because somehow, many didn’t expect a fellow Nigerian to be the ‘first’ or have ‘biggest’ of anything globally. Yet, it is a matter of record that Nigeira has the biggest church auditorium in the world; Dunamis or RCCG camp, depending on how you think of ‘auditorium’. We have the best gathering of worshippers for monthly vigil i.e. RCCG Holy Ghost Services). We have the biggest offline gathering of gospel artistes for a Christian concert i.e. The House on The Rock ‘Experience’, and we have the most churches per-capita than any country in the world. Right? Is that hype?So, when I say our “Worship Without Walls” concert is the biggest online Gospel concert, it is a fact and there is nothing hypey about it. It’s fact. Or do you know of any exclusively made-for-internet online Gospel concert that has over 50 gospel artistes performing for 12 non-stop hours in one single day? Please, if you discover any that existed before us, let me know and I will gladly look for another adjective. We checked, and The Cyber Embassy’s Worship without Walls, is indeed the biggest online Gospel concert ever contemplated to date. I don’t know about tomorrow. Forget the fact that we are new or that most people are even yet to hear about us. We quietly built up a 36,000 followership and over 800 active official members in four months, as an exclusively 100% full-fledged online church, without even most of the world knowing who we are yet. Of course, we expect bigger ministries to step in and even take it to a whole different level with a 24-hour nonstop worship with 100s of musicians. In fact we are counting on it and this one, by our small Cyber Embassy, is intended to challenge the churches with bigger resources and better experience on this sort of thing to take it from us and make it a global must-attend event like the ‘Experience’. My call is to be a forerunner in exploring new territories for executing the Great Commission on all levels. The men of God who will make this truly global are coming. In the meantime, The Cyber Embassy will keep pushing the envelope and keep taking the lead in demonstrating the amazing possibilities of the internet for the Great Commission.
Tell us about the planning; the preparations in terms of funds being channeled into beaming such a huge virtual programme to the world.Like the ‘Experience’ event of House on The Rock that inspired this, I have not done any public fundraising and I have practically decided to use my personal funds to sponsor this until I figure out how to do it well. It’s a vision but it has not been tested on the internet until we do it on May 31. I don’t know how it would go and I don’t want to take anyone’s money and then get in trouble. Thankfully, our model does not need plenty money and virtually all the artistes being featured are volunteering to encourage us. We thank God for that grace and for the magnanimity of many of those big names who have chosen to support the project. As for preparation, we have been planning this for three months, which in internet terms is equivalent to one year of planning for an offline event. As for beaming this globally online, the beauty of the internet is it costs virtually nothing to do a concert like this online. You don’t need heavy bandwidth since you will be using the bandwidth of the popular social media to do this; we will go live simultaneously on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, LinkedIn, Telegram etc and it costs us zero. Is that not amazing. We don’t have to rent any hall. We don’t have to pay for expensive stage. We don’t have to have security for attendees. We don’t have to think about parking. We don’t have to worry about touts or thieves disturbing attendees. We don’t have to worry about heavy traffic or armed robbers attacking our venue. It’s in fact so affordable and seamless to do a made-for-internet event where the most money you need would be for online promo. So, possibilities are endless for churches who do massive offline events.
How are the artistes getting booked on this coming concert and what do they stand to benefit apart from their arts getting more exposed to the outside world?Like I mentioned earlier, this first one is mostly a trial and it’s all by volunteers. Of course, we also threw in little stuff to encourage the up and coming especially with music promotion online, awards for most favourite performers etc, but I don’t want to focus on what participants get since it’s not much. Instead, we are inviting them to be part of an experiment to thumb our collective noses at Covid-19. The pandemic may have temporarily shut down our places of worship offline, but it cannot take praise and worship from our mouths. So, this WWW event is more like declaring to the devil that nothing can take the praise from believers who are resolved to worship their God. Let’s keep the focus on that and not material benefits for participants, though we have plenty as explained on our site, www.WorshipWithoutWalls.Online.
Has WWW Concert come to stay as a regular music festival of sort?Frankly, I do not know. God has told me to go do this as a demo of what is possible online. Right now, my plan is to make it an annual or even biannual event since it’s very easy to put together, but God will let me know if I need to step aside and let the big boys take it from here once I have sensitized them on the idea. I keep reminding everyone that I do not think my calling is to be a permanent one-place pastor but as a catalyst, enabler, and backend support for those called to be frontline pastors. Once somebody call to do this stepup, I may step down and rather go help them take the whole thing to another level. For me, the dynamics of online church cannot be competitive but cooperational. There is one God and one church. Let’s work together to take over the power of the internet.
What are your expectations, before, during and after the concert?
Our expectations for the Worship Without Walls Concert are very clear. With God helping us, here are the clear objectives we expect to achieve with the programme. One, we hope to give believers everywere, regardless of denomination, an opportunity to celebrate God together online by participating in a remarkable online worship experience. Two, we hope, and with God helping us, to loud the voice of praise online for believers everywhere and prove that Covid-19 has got nothing on the church of God, for those determined to raise their game in the Great Commission. Instead, the internet presents limitless possibilities for communal worship outside of brick and mortar church walls. We hope believers everywhere will embrace this Covid-19 gift to churches with a vengeance. Three, we hope to sensitize those with special calling for Christian worship to get inspired and get into the internet workshop experience, and do what we are doing much better and with much higher resources. I especially hope this first edition of WWW will trigger a passion in frontline gospel concert organizers to blow up the internet with gospel worship. Four, we hope to give Gospel artistes, especially up and coming ones, the opportunity to showcase their talents to a global audience. Most of our budget will be spent on promoting the artistes who really did well during the WWW concert for the next 60 days after the event. Unlike offline concerts, real promotion for participants actually starts after the event. Above all, our goal is to see God and Jesus glorified even in the middle of a devastating pandemic. That is our mission and with God helping us, all things are possible.