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BREAKING: Hardship: Churches are going broke, only 48% still give – survey

The effect of economic downturn has negatively affected the finances of many churches and other worship centres, making them unable to carry out key projects, including financial obligations to their workers, Business Hallmark findings have revealed.

Many Nigerians, owing to the negative impacts of the present economic crisis brought about by the simultaneous removal of fuel subsidy and unification of foreign exchange rates by the present administration have seen their wages and income eroded by galloping inflation, which stood at 29.90 per cent in January 2024.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had in its January 2024 Consumer Price Index (CPI) report released on February 15, said Nigeria’s annual inflation rate rose to 29.90 per cent in January from 28.92 per cent in December 2023.

According to the statistics bureau, the January 2024 headline inflation rate recorded an increase of 0.98 per cent points when compared to the December 2023 headline inflation rate.

The NBS added that on a year-on-year basis, the headline inflation rate was 8.08 per cent points higher compared to the rate recorded in January 2023, which was 21.82 per cent.

“This shows that the headline inflation rate (year-on-year basis) increased in January 2024 when compared to the same month in the preceding year (i.e., January 2023)”.

The NBS said the contributions of items on the divisional year-on-year level to the increase in the headline index are food and non-alcoholic beverages (15.49 per cent), housing water, electricity, gas and other fuel (5.00 per cent), clothing and footwear (22.29 per cent) and transport (1.95 per cent).

Others are furnishings and household equipment and maintenance (1.50 per cent), education (1.18 per cent), health (0.90 per cent), miscellaneous goods and services (0.50 per cent) etc.

Meanwhile, the percentage change in the average CPI for the twelve-month ending January 2024 over the average of the CPI for the previous twelve-month period was 25.35 per cent, showing a 5.99 per cent increase compared to 19.36 per cent recorded in January 2023.

Also, the food inflation rate in January 2024 was 35.41 per cent on a year-on-year basis, which was 11.10 per cent points higher compared to the rate recorded in January 2023 (24.32 per cent).

The unification of the FX windows, worsened by the scarcity and high demand for dollars by manufacturers and importers of foreign goods, have further contributed to inflationary trend, making it difficult for many households in the country to make ends meet.

Owing to the hardship, many Nigerians churchgoers have stopped attending services regularly, with attendance recording its lowest figures in decades.

Even, the payments of tithes and offerings, as well as other contributions to church activities by worshipers, who still attend services have taken a hit, a pastor of a popular pentecostal church with a branch in Agege lamented.

BH findings revealed that attendance of services and activities has dropped, with some religious houses only having about 40 percent of their usual capacity.

A journalist with a national newspaper based in Lagos, who preferred to be known only by his first name, Obi, said that he started noticing the trend sometimes last year.

According to Obi, who is a Catholic faithful and attends a parish of the church in Ojodu, Lagos, he first thought that the reason for the church not recording a full house like before was because some members had decided to switch to the morning mass, which normally holds from 6.30am to 8.30am.

“After sometime, I decided to attend one of the morning mass and was surprised to see that many members also stayed away.

“After about three visits, it finally dawned on me that the situation has become a trend. Many Christians now stay away from churches to avoid financial obligations.

“The matter is not helped by pastors’ penchant for always demanding money even when their members are passing through tough times and cannot afford to give”, Obi lamented.

Also, this reporter, who is a member of The Apostolic Church of Nigeria (TACN), observed that attendance has dropped drastically in the church’s assemblies (branches) scattered all over Lagos.

Though, the trend (absenteeism) started manifesting some years back, especially during the Covid19 pandemic years of 2000, 2021 and 2022, it took a turn for the worse after President Bola Tinubu removed fuel subsidy and unified the multiple forex windows entrenched by past administrations.

In a recent meeting of the church’s Elders Council called to deliberate on how to raise raise levies imposed by the church headquarters, a visibly agitated senior elder told his parish pastor to tell his ogas’ (church leaders) to limit the way they always levy the church, saying members are groaning and may rebel if the demands continued unabated.

BH findings revealed that church leaders are now under pressure to generate more funds as monthly remittances to headquarters continue to fall.

A pastor of a local assembly in TACN, who did not want his identity disclosed, told our correspondent that what his assembly remit to the headquarters monthly to the headquarters has drastically gone down.

“The situation is bad. Apart from our tithe, which used to be around N750,000, we also pay 15% as returns/levies, which is N172,000, totalling around N922,000 monthly.

“We now congratulate ourselves any month we realise N400,000 because funds realised at one period crashed to around N200,000 to N250,000.

“Even after using our offerings, which normally belong to each local branch to augment it, we rarely get N300,000. The situation just improved when some of our wards secured employments and started contributing to the church coffers.

“We no longer get our monthly allowances in full as the shortfall in remittances is normally deducted from our pay”, the pastor lamented.

Another clergy in a Catholic Church said that his church expected the downturn and had adequately prepared for it.

“We don’t need a prophecy to know that things will become tough in the country with some of the policies canvassed by the three leading presidential candidates during electioneering campaigns. The signs were everywhere for discerning minds to see.

“With more than half of the country’s population unemployed or underemployed, inflation and insecurity rising, we don’t need a prophet to tell us the obvious.

“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 soon”, the priest stated.

The cash crunch, multiple sources in popular 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 vehicles, staging of revivals/crusades and 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.

“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 worshipers don’t want to give. But where are they going to get the money? 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.

Our correspondent gathered that due to the cash crunch, many ongoing projects have been abandoned, while new ones, particularly those with huge capital outlay are being shelved.

Our correspondent, who visited some church branches in Lagos, noticed several abandoned projects at different stages of completion.

Meanwhile, the leadership of TACN has directed all its branches nationwide to stop all construction projects that are below 75 percent completion level.

According to a memo to area superintendents of the church seen by our correspondent, approval to proceed was given to only branches, whose projects are near completion.

The decision to stop all ongoing projects, according to a senior pastor, who is a member of the church’s National Executive Council (NEC), was to relieve members of burden placed on them by overzealous ministers of God.

“Apart from their tithes and offerings, members also pay several monies, such as first fruits, pastors hospitality, monthly levies, seeds, donations, project funds and many others.

“If you add them up, the percentage of money payable by each member sometimes climb to as high as 35 percent to 40 percent. Despite that, some pastors always embark on white elephant projects.

“Go to some of our branches, you will see big temples with galleries that can house over 1,000 members at a go. But what do we have? The population hardly exceed 200 to 300 worshipers.

“So, why would you build what you don’t need? We have discovered that most pastors want to outshine each other by always trying to attach a project to their names even when the projects come at a huge cost to members and don’t add much value.

“They (pastors) inflate attendance figures and embark on unnecessary projects to curry favour from leaders and also get promoted.

“I don’t also want to blame them too much, as high attendance and projects executed are counted for them during promotion exercises. I think that parameters have to change”, said the senior pastor.

Other popular denominations affected by the downturn include Christ Apostolic Church, The Anglican Church, Baptist Church, Foursquare Church, Deeper Life, amongst many others.

The general overseer of a popular church along Iju Road, Agege, who spoke on the development, said clergies and church officers are reluctant to discuss their worries for fear of alarming their members.

“The sad truth is that this problem started a long time ago with income decreasing steadily in the last ten years

“I actually observed that 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 couldn’t pay salaries. The crisis lingered until Jonathan left in 2015 and Buhari entered office.

“Buhari worsened the situation by mishandling the economy. The present administration has worsened it with its belt-tightening policies. I am an economist turned pastor. So I know better.

“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 2000. 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 G.O noted.