By Tumininu Ojelabi Hassan
As the economic hardship bites harder churches are reporting drop in attendance at weekly services, which has in turn affected the revenues from tithes and offerings. As a result of the austerity being experienced in the country owing to the rising rate of inflation as well as the removal of fuel subsidy, which consequently led to the hike in fuel price and fares, many families in Nigeria struggle to meet their basic needs.
Tunde Emmanuel, a facility manager at one of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) parishes, affirmed to the decline in attendance, however through assistance from some church members, who help to pick up other church members at designated bus stops with their private vehicles, the drop in attendance has not posed a crucial problem to the church. To salvage the situation, the reduction of church programs from three to two weekly was implemented to reduce the overhead costs on the church.
“Everybody is affected with this situation because each and everyone of us make up the church. We tried to limit our programs, we reduced our services from three times in a week to twice weekly. It used to be on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays but now services hold on Sundays and Tuesdays.
“Also, instead of buying about 150 litres of fuel in a week, we reduced it to 90 litres, which can serve for two sundays. There has also been regular power supply, which has helped reduce cost,” he revealed.
Aside the economic hardship, which is the major factor behind the decrease in church attendance, Valentine Emmanuel of The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) opines that the emergence of online service, which became prominent during the COVID-19 lockdown, has contributed greatly to the reduction in physical church attendance as people prefer to join services online now.
“For a month now, what we observed was that the attendance has dropped. However, this issue started during COVID-19 as a result of the introduction of online churches. People are used to worshiping online than coming to church.
“Based on the information I got from the Holy Ghost service, since 2020, online offerings are usually more than the physical offerings. As regards the removal of fuel subsidy, I relocated to another location because of marriage. I stay at Igando, my place of work and church is at Ikosi.
“I spend about N40,000 on transportation monthly to work. I had to limit the times I go to church, at a point the pastor called me to reduce it to first Sunday, third Sunday and last Sunday of the month because of the distance and the ridiculous cost of transportation.
“To ease off the burden, sometimes we go home with the pastor, he drops my family and I close by, sometimes he gives us money for transport. Some church members also pick up other church members on their way to the church and also back home.
“In addition to this, instead of outsourcing church jobs to outsiders, we employ church members so they can earn extra income, I have also benefited from this,” he explained.
To alleviate the financial implications of the economy, the church resorted to rationing petrol by reducing the volume of consumption.
“To reduce cost, what we do is to turn off the generator immediately after the service. Before, we used to leave it on for a few hours after the service but presently we turn it off once the service is over. A few weeks ago, an announcement was made that the church tithe has reduced because people can’t afford to pay so we have to cut cost too,” he said.
Valentine ascribed the rising cost of living and hardship experienced in the country to negligence of the Nigerian government as this situation doesn’t affect them harshly like the citizens, who have to bear the brunt of their decisions by trekking long distances to save cost and spending 70% of their income on transportation. Nevertheless, he is optimistic about the situation getting better with time.
“The removal of fuel subsidy is not the problem but the implementation is the issue. I think the government should have notified us about it, at least three months before the removal of fuel subsidy so we can be prepared. Another thing is that, how are they utilizing the subsidy money? Speaking about the N8,0000 palliative, can N8,0000 feed a family of five?,” he added.
While speaking with our correspondent, Pastor Joseph Atiyota of New Message Gospel Ministries attributed the drop in attendance to lack of dedication and commitment, which solely depends on individual understanding, although the economic hardship has not affected the church’s attendance significantly.
“The situation has not affected our attendance significantly. We only record a drop in attendance when our members travel. Regarding the drop in attendance in churches, I think it is about dedication and commitment.
“When you are dedicated and committed, you won’t substitute the hours you are spending in the house of God. It’s also about individual understanding. Despite the fact that things are tough, don’t people go out to do other things?
“Coming to the church once a week shouldn’t be any problem, although there’s no force. Despite everything, committed members will come to the church but the multitudes will not come. The multitudes are those, who come for the sake of coming, while the committed members come to church to serve God.
“All we do is to encourage them and talk to them. In these difficult times, God will provide for his own. We are just passing through a test of faith. There is no point staying away from God, when you depart from God and think about what’s going on, health issues like hypertension can arise,” he stated.
Considering the economic situation, Atiyota advised Nigerians against sitting at home, instead attending a nearby church to save cost is a better option.
“If one is fellowshipping at Victoria Island and such a person can’t go to church due to the current financial situation, nothing should stop such a person from going to any MFM, RCCG parish close to their house. There are churches around you can go to and worship instead of sitting down at home,” he urged.
To cushion the effects of the economic downturn on church members, Atiyota revealed that the church helps its members ease off financial burdens like accommodation problems. This is implemented through contributions from different groups in the church, which include the men group/fellowship and women group/fellowship.