By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
The effect of economic downturn has negatively affected the finances of many Nigerian churches, making them unable to carry out key projects, including financial obligations to their workers, Business Hallmark findings have revealed.
Many Nigerian Christians, owing to the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the management of the nation’s economy by the present administration, have either lost their jobs or have their salaries slashed by their employers.
The situation is worsened by the galloping inflation the country is passing through, with value of wages getting diminished every passing day.
Warning of the looming financial crisis, the World Bank had in a 2020 report warned that millions of “new poor” would be created in middle-income countries, especially Nigeria which is vulnerable because of its precarious pre-pandemic economic situation.
“Unemployment and inflation were already rising and incomes were falling — and its dependency on oil and remittances will send personal incomes in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, back four decades, the World Bank had warned.
Several months later, the prediction has come to pass, with many Nigerians reeling from the resultant economic hardship.
“Many families are daily finding it difficult to survive. To eat has become a problem. Many children are out of school, many die every day because of lack of adequate medicare.
“Naturally, as resources become scarce, there will be scale of preference and opportunity cost. Other wants, especially non essential ones, will suffer. One of the casualties is the church.
“It is not as if Nigerians don’t want to give. But where are they going to get the money to give? Their sources of livelihood are getting battered each day. They even need help which is not forthcoming.
“What we have now is a reversal of roles. People are now looking at institutions like the church for bailout. But the church is also affected by the downturn. It is not an island. It can only give what it gets”, declared Dr. Joseph Ajilore, a lecturer of developmental economic at the Osun State University, Osogbo.
BH findings revealed that pastors are under pressure to generate more funds as monthly remittances to headquarters continue to fall.
A pastor of a local assembly in The Apostolic Church Nigeria (TACN) who did not want his identity disclosed, told our correspondent that what his assembly remit to the headquarters monthly has really gone down.
“The situation is that bad. Apart from our tithe which used to be average of N400,000, we also pay 10% as returns/levies which is N112,000, making it over N500,000 monthly.
“But if we are able to realise N250,000 in a month these days, we have really done well. Even after using our offerings which belong to each local branch to augment it, we rarely get N300,000.
“We no longer get our monthly allowances in full as the shortfall in remittances is normally deducted from our pay. We will continue to pray to God to restore the glory of the country”, the pastor lamented.
Another clergy in a Catholic Church said that his church expected the downturn and had adequately prepared for it.
“We didn’t need a prophesy to know that things will become though in the country. The signs were everywhere for discerning minds to see.
“Nigeria has a very large Catholic population, particularly in the Southeastern part of the country. So, with more than half of the country’s population unemployed or underemployed, risen inflation, worsening insecurity and the economy contracting, we prepared for the worse.
“Though several projects are now stalled, the church is trying to alleviate the sufferings of affected members in our own little ways.
“God being on our sides, we hope to get out of the hardship in another two years after this clueless regime must have left office”, the priest stated.
The cash crunch, multiple sources in top Nigerian churches told our correspondent, is exacerbated by the fact that churches don’t sit on cash for too long making them not to have savings to fall back on in times of needs.
“Because of the regular inflow of funds, churches are always liquid. So they don’t see the need to sit on cash. As funds come in, church administrators move them out towards massive projects like the construction and expansion of church auditoriums, schools and hospitals, maintenance of facilities such as mission houses, publications of bulletins, tracts, prayer/daily manuals, inspirational books, wages and allowances of staff, purchase and maintenance of fleets vehicles, staging of revivals/crusades and many others.
“Many projects and businesses have been created to service the needs of the church. So, no amount of money can be enough. That is why you see churches always beseeching members to give more despite raking in billions every week from tithes, offerings, vows and special offerings”, a senior accountant in one of the top churches in Lagos told BH.
Our correspondent gathered that due to the cash crunch, many ongoing projects are have been abandoned, while new ones, particularly those with huge capital outlay, are being shelved.
One of the major church projects affected is the gigantic auditorium project of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM), Agege Lagos Region 5 located in the former Pen Cinema building.
The old cinema building which the church acquired from its previous owners was pulled down in 2019 to accommodate an ultra modern church complex.
However, work on the project which was in the pilling stage stalled after the Covid19 pandemic hit the country.
Sources told our correspondent that the church building project was meant for completion within 24 months.
“This is November 2021 and the project has not even progressed beyond the foundation stage. The church is badly affected as wealthy members who used to donate heavily have been impacted.
“As things stand, no one knows when the project will resume, not to talk of being completed”, one of the sources confided in BH.
Other denominations affected are The Apostolic Church, Christ Apostolic Church, The Anglican Church, Baptist Church, Fouresquare Church, Deeper Life.
Our correspondent who visited some branches of the churches in Lagos, noticed several abandoned projects in different stages of completion.
Meanwhile, checks revealed that the blow has been hardest on small congregations, making experts to predict that the economic crisis could reshape the country’s religious landscape and wipe out many small houses of worship.
“Members before now used to come here in search of comfort and solutions to their problems. But that has changed. Most members who come to church these days come to beg for alms to survive. Unfortunately, we can’t help them.
“It is like a father who cannot provide for his children. Like if God sent Jesus to earth but couldn’t do nothing for him. There’s nothing I can do, and that’s one of the worst things a father can say to a child,” said Prophet Samuel Ojoade, the pastor in charge of a small church of 30 worshippers.
The general overseer of a popular church on Iju Road, Agege, who spoke on the development, said clergies and church officers are reluctant to discuss their worries for fear of alarming the congregation and harming their relationships with their donours and church members.
“The sad truth is that this problem has been developing for a long time, as per-member giving as a portion of income has decreased steadily in the last ten years.
“The trend started during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan around 2013 when the prices of crude oil crashed leading to a major economic crisis.
“Many employers, particularly state governments could no longer pay salaries. The crisis lingered until Jonathan left in 2015 and President Buhari entered office.
“Buhari worsened the situation by mismanaging the crisis. The result is what we are seeing today. I am an accountant turned pastor. So I know better.
“Many of our members are not getting paid on a regular basis. Some are paid once ever three months. Seven out of 10 people would have no choice but to leave some bills unpaid if they missed just one salary.
“I can tell you that between 2013 and 2016, giving received for the church budget decreased from 85% to just over 70%. Today, it is below 50%.
“A survey conducted by a firm I used to work for revealed that one out of every five households began giving less money to faith institutions from the beginning of 2022. By 2021, a total of 52% stopped giving to the church altogether. While the amount given by the remaining 48% has significantly dropped.
“As a result, many churches have gotten a rude awakening to the problem”, the church leader lamented.