With an open mind and a big vision as its foundation, Winners Chapel International Maryland is a totally reimagined space that ticks all the boxes — and comes in under budget.
By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
With locations all over the world, including Europe and Africa — notably including Canaanland in Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria, which spans nearly 5,000 acres and seats 100,000 — Winners Chapel is a well-established global entity.
As the church expands into America, church leaders have prioritized owning (not leasing) its properties, as well as renovating existing buildings versus undertaking new-build projects.
In 2007, Winners Chapel opened its first U.S. campus in New York, in an old theater it converted for its use.
Its Houston campus opened its doors in 2008. This time, leaders bought and renovated an existing church.
In 2009, under the leadership of Pastor Isaac Oyedepo — founder Bishop David Oyedepo’s son — the church set its sights on expanding into Maryland. This campus, they knew, would serve as the national “hub.”
But for a church that typically moves at light-speed, getting established in Maryland wasn’t a direct path for Isaac. “The way it works is, we move around quite a bit,” he explains. “We’re really like missionaries.”
After spending two years at the New York campus, Isaac spent five years serving the church in South Africa, and then was transferred to Nigeria, where he served for two years. In 2019, he came back to the U.S. — to Maryland — where the church had been searching for more than six years for the right property to purchase. Though leaders had found a rentable property there, Isaac says, “It wasn’t the right space. I just couldn’t get the right buy.”
Nevertheless, Winners Chapel saw amazing growth. Before the pandemic hit, it added a third service and was running up to four services just to accommodate a growing body of worshipers.
In 2020, the ideal church home emerged in an unlikely package: a 15-acre shopping center, or village mall.
“It’s similar to our other U.S. projects in the sense that it already exists,” Isaac says. “But this is the first time we have done something on this scale.”
Unconventional, sure … but just right
Aside from the massive scope of the project, the decision to buy a space that wasn’t remotely designed for church use presented considerable architectural challenges.
“For one thing, I never liked having an auditorium where you would have to deal with pillars, so that was a huge challenge,” he says. “Yes, we had the size we wanted, but how would we get the pillars out? That makes a huge difference.”
Even so, the opportunities the space offered vastly outweighed any challenges — in particular, the property’s location. It’s less than five minutes from the current campus and offers maximum visibility.
“It puts us in the right in sight,” Isaac points out. “Getting that property, in the midst of that community, has given us access to another community.”
For the building itself, Isaac had three main criteria, all of which the village mall property met in spades: that it deliver the space the church needs, has a modern design, and is adaptable to a quick-turnaround project.
“Time was of the essence,” he recalls. “We thought it would take a minimum of five years to get the place and get all the approvals. With the way the church was growing, we didn’t have that time.”
So, he knew that getting the right building partner onboard would be crucial.
To start, Isaac traveled to other churches, in other states, to get an idea of what would work best. Word of Life in Flowood, MS; LifeWay Church in Kingfisher, OK; and The Assembly in West Monroe, LA all stood out for him. Interestingly, all three were designed and built by Churches by Daniels — a pleasant surprise for Isaac.
“Funny enough, nobody introduced us to Churches by Daniels; they were never referred to us by anybody. We just went out searching,” he recalls. “We wanted something modern, we wanted something warm, and we wanted the excellence and skill that we saw in those churches.”
Isaac reached out and interviewed Churches by Daniels Founder and CEO Charlie Daniels. When he discovered that Daniels built the home of Kenneth Hagin Ministries / Rhema in Broken Arrow, OK, as well as Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, OK, founded and led by Billy Joe Daugherty, his confidence was solidified.
“We knew they were the right people to do this,” he says. “We felt they would be able to not only help me design, but also catch the vision.”
A big project lifts off
With the property secured, a tight timeline, and the right building partner onboard, work began — and progressed — very quickly. The first item of business was securing permits and overcoming zoning restrictions. This was no easy feat, given the property’s close proximity to Washington, DC.
“Maryland presents some unique challenges in these aspects,” Daniels explains. “But [the Winners Chapel team] worked so great with our team on ground that it really helped in expediting the process.”
In the end, a zoning and approvals process that would ordinarily take four or five years took months instead.
Construction moved equally fast, including building “a roof over a roof.” Daniels explains: “We reached down from above and pulled the old roof to take all the columns out of the building.”
In total, Phase 1 includes a 2,000-seat sanctuary, executive offices, children’s space, and a coffee shop in the lobby.
Construction that would otherwise take about two years finished in just four months.
“We are very conscious of this in the design: How do we invite them in? We feel that the church is supposed to be the light, so that’s our focus.” — Isaac Oyedepo
And it was all done while working around existing leases on the property, as Isaac points out. “Because many spaces are still occupied by commercial tenants, it made sense to take [the project] in phases instead of waiting for all tenants to be out.”
Scheduled for completion in late summer or early fall, Winners Chapel will move into its new campus around the 30th anniversary of Isaac’s time with the church.
Amazingly, the project will finish on time, debt-free and under budget.
It will take only two years to complete, from locating the property, to renovating it, to opening the doors. It’s an especially impressive outcome considering that the approvals process alone might have taken twice as long under different circumstances.
And, as Isaac points out, debt-free construction is a mandate for the church. Every project the church has done to date, across the world, was finished without debt.
Finally, while finishing the project under budget is wonderful, Isaac says it’s not necessarily a surprise.
“When we met with Churches by Daniels, we found that’s actually one of their trademarks,” he says. “They work so hard to ensure they give you some money back.”
Going fast, going big
Moving forward, Isaac looks forward to enjoying all these benefits again in Phases 2, 3, 4 and 5 — plus, the visual transformation. “We’re changing the entire look of the place after the first phase is completed,” he says. “It’s a masterpiece they’ve worked on.”
Phase 2 (and possibly 3) will begin next year. As Daniels explains, he and his team are phasing as they secure permits.
This will include an events center — which can be rented by the public — and a 27,000-square-foot children’s wing, as well as reskinning the exterior of the building.
Then, Daniels says, it will likely be another year before permits are secured for Phases 4 and 5, which will be constructed on a 2.5-acre adjacent parcel of land. These phases can only begin when all tenants are moved out. They will include construction of a full parking garage, baptismal room, and youth center; a brand-new exterior façade that ties the entire facility together visually; and a large fitness center. The latter will be instrumental in engaging the community, which is of utmost importance to Isaac and his team.
“We are very conscious of this in the design: How do we invite them in, and what facilities are available for them to use?” he says. “We feel that the church is supposed to be the light, so that’s our focus. How do we get the light of the church to shine bright and get people from the community in?”
To this end, Isaac adds, the church is also considering building a school to serve the community in the future.
No slowing down
In coming years (and even right now), the church’s sights in the U.S. are set well beyond Maryland.
Since his introduction to Isaac, Daniels says he has begun working on a project for the church in Houston. It has taken 10 months to get a permit, and rezoning will be required.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT WINNERS CHAPEL INTERNATIONAL MARYLAND
Year established: 2009
Location of original campus: Lanham, MD
Number of locations: 33
Number of staff: 41
Combined weekly attendance: 4,000
Daniels has also visited five other major cities on the church’s behalf to scope out buildings before the church buys them. Most recently, he was in New York to see another building Winners Chapel might want to renovate for its use.
As Isaac explains, this is all in keeping with the church’s expansion plan: to have a church in every state of the United States, each housed in a property it owns. It all began in May 1981 with Bishop David Oyedepo.
“He received a mandate to liberate the whole world from the oppressions of the devil through the preaching of the word of faith,” Isaac says.
Under his own leadership, and that of other pastors like him across the country — and with the guidance of a like-minded building partner — the church is well on its way.