At least 38 people were killed in the explosion on a busy road in Kaduna, the capital of Kaduna state.
Two churches were damaged in the explosion, the nearby All Nations Christian Assembly Church and the ECWA Good News Church.
In the wake of recent bomb attacks on churches in Nigeria, there is suspicion that the attacker had intended to detonate his explosives in the compound of the churches.
Witnesses reported seeing the attacker attempt to drive into the compound in his explosives-laden car before turning away when a security guard approached.
Pastor Joshua Raji was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “We were in the Holy Communion service and I was exhorting my people and all of a sudden, we heard a loud noise that shattered all our windows and doors, destroyed our fans and some of our equipment in the church.”
A string of bomb attacks have been carried out on churches by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
The attacks have increased tension in the predominantly Muslim north of the country. Kaduna sits along the dividing line between the north and Nigeria’s largely Christian south.
At least 44 people were killed when a Catholic church in Madilla was targeted by a suicide bomber on Christmas day.
Boko Haram means “Western education is sacrilege” in the Hausa language. Around 380 people, including Muslims, have been killed in attacks by Boko Haram this year alone.
No one has come forward to claim responsibility for the Kaduna explosion.
Nigeria was mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI is his Easter Sunday appeal for peace.
He said: “To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens.”