While some local churches are crying out for a return to the pews, at least one denomination is in no rush amid an almost 600 per cent increase in attendance in virtual services, necessitated by COVID-19.
But projections of a 50 per cent falloff in revenue has left President of the East Caribbean Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists Pastor Danforth Francis asking members to “remember the Lord” in tithes and offerings.
Francis explained that the almost seamless transition to virtual platforms at its approximately 60 congregations was due to a proactive decision to conduct an island-wide virtual evangelical series in 2019.
“At that time, people were saying they didn’t want to go to church and watch television and I always said that this isn’t television, this is worship. But it turns out that it was providential and God was actually preparing us to deal with this situation although we did not know it was coming,” said Francis.
“There is, in fact, an increase in church attendance when you look at the number of people logged onto the services, and there could be three or four persons watching from a single device. For many years we’ve been having challenges with attendance on Wednesday evenings but most of our Wednesday evening services have four, five or even six times the number that our congregations used to have before,” revealed the conference president.
Pastor Francis and his team has also taken a different approach to leaders from other denominations, who, earlier this week lamented being overlooked in phase two of Government’s re-opening of the country.
“As a church, we are fond of health and anything that will tend to our better health, we will support. While we would be happy to have that possibility again, I don’t think as a church we want to rush and put more people at risk. So although we would welcome the relaxation, we would want to tread softly,” he said.
Financially, however, the church has largely been caught off guard by the shutdowns. In the absence of online facilities to process the payment of tithes and offerings at every church, he revealed that pastors and teachers could well be asked to accept salary cuts and/or retrenchment.
“We forecast about a 50 per cent falloff…so we are hopeful that members and guests who have tithes and offerings to return will do it especially now that restrictions have been eased and they will remember the Lord on their allocated days for shopping and banking.
While it is true that the gospel is free, the priests, pastors and teachers also have to be paid. So if the source of income dries up, it could put people on the breadline,” Francis added.
Similar scenarios have played out for congregations operating under the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies (PAWI), which presides over 29 churches across the country, according to Executive Secretary Reverend Selwyn Brathwaite.
Given the decentralized nature of PAWI’s structure, he revealed that some churches have not received any income in over a month as leaders worked tirelessly to move services online and find other means of reaching older members and those without access to the Internet.
“Financial resources are definitely under some pressure and without a regular income, we wouldn’t be able to do as much as we would like to in some cases. Coming out of this, many of our churches will have to start moving toward online banking to ensure it becomes easier to finance our operations.
“We now have a situation where theology and technology have been joined together in matrimony and that can become very helpful for us,” added Reverend Brathwaite.
Meanwhile, Major Darrell Wilkinson, Chairman of the Barbados Christian Council (BXC) reported similar challenges facing local Baptists, Moravians, Salvation Army and the Anglican Church leaders.
However, he says the small sample of churches offering online services must form the ethos for a “new normal” in religion.
“We have been able to reach a few more people who would not normally have attended our services. It is not quite what we would want, but certainly, by the time this is all over, we must be able to offer online services with physical services as well,” he said.
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