CHURCH BUSINESS: Embracing the new normal
By Oludare Mayowa
Many churches will be reopening in Nigeria for the first time in three months by Sunday June 21 in accordance with government protocol and guidelines. There will surely be excitement among faithful who have waited this long to gather with other brethren; expression of joy on the reunion and testimonies of great survival of the pandemic would definitely be common among them.
The great come back deserves to be celebrated and there will be abundant time to do that through season of thanksgiving and testimonies in the months ahead.
However, leaders must equally recognize the fact that the church they are reopening will never be the same again, at least for some times to come. A lot of things have taking place and many water, like it is usually said has passed under the bridge.
First to be noted is that some members would have probably lost their means of livelihood due to the impact of the lockdown and its disruptions on the global economies and individual means of livelihood. This will have significant effect on the finances of the church by way of lost of income and decline commitment from such members hence the need for support from the Church.
Again, concerns on the possible second wave of the spread of the Coronavirus remain real and will continue to shape many people’s position to the extent that some will make personal decision to stay away from initial church physical gathering for the time being for the sake of safety and health. The leaders should recognise these set of people and appreciate their concerns as part of the new normal for the season
In spite of the online services organized by churches during the period of lockdown, a number of people would have drifted away from the faith and got ‘polluted’ by diverse reasons ranging from unresolved internal conflicts on faith, lack of spiritual nourishment and indifference to spiritual matters during the lockdown.
A number of members would probably have also discovered other alternatives to their present place of worship during the course of the lockdown. This could be as a result of their exposure to some innovative manner some organizations mobilize support and palliatives among their flocks and the kind of encouragement they received that help them cope with the hardship brought about by the disruptions.
Leaders should focus on key areas that will reassure worshippers of their safety, and ensure that they create an atmosphere conducive enough for maintaining physical distancing, enlighten those doubting Thomases of the reality of the virus and the need to keep safe and healthy.
According to the government guidelines and protocol, it’s not going to be business as usual; with worshippers wearing facemask during service, washing hands with soap before entering the sanctuaries and unable to shake hands, it will look strange but that will be the new normal people may have to live with for a very long time to come.
Leaders should start looking toward areas they could help worshipers to rebuild their lives through intensive teaching and exposure to acquisition of skills and knowledge in certain areas that could help them to revive their businesses or take up new challenges.
Messages from the pulpits should also focus on practical things that address the daily challenges each worshiper continues to contend with as a result of the effect of the disease on lifestyle and social economic conditions.
Firstly, the church must, like I recommended sometimes ago, provided branded facemask for worshippers, especially those indigents who may not be able to afford it and visitors who you don’t have to turn back because they are not wearing their own facemask.
Before the reopening, leader should develop a clear communications strategy that will ensure that clear boundaries are set for worshipers; what they could do and can’t do while within the church building to protect themselves and others. They should be educated on the basic hygienic requirements and ensure that in spite of being within a worship centre, they must take responsibility for their health and protection.
For now, church should rather deemphasize organizing programmes that will bring together a large gathering of people but rather they should reinforce their cell groups deployed during the lockdown to grow their flocks. The leaders must come to the realization that we may have to live with the virus for a very long time, perhaps until a vaccine is found and therefore people have to take responsibility for their own life, and health.
Leaders should ensure that enough hands are enlisted at this season, especially those who are skilled in healthcare services to help pass the message of safety and personal care across to people while in Church and even outside the Church.
One other major area the preacher or leaders in the church should focus on this time is helping the people through the word of God to navigate through the period of economic hardship ahead.
The report of the committee set up by the federal government to work out some measures to address the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 and the consequence of economic downturn is scary.
The report predicted that about 39.4 million people may lose their job before the end of the year, but experts said this projection understated the reality that is confronting the country due to the impact of the disruptions on economic activities in the wake of the outbreak of the pandemic.
How the church will help the people to live through this period is imperative in order to help many from losing more than their job during the season ahead.
A people without hope could also lose their faith and forgo serving God in the period of hardship, this I believe the church wouldn’t want to happen.
Lastly, the church must change the orientations from building a large cathedral to building people. The period of lockdown has shown that that large spaces we called worship centers are not so important any more than the souls we touched.
The new testament church was in individuals’ houses, the church must consolidate on the practice of conducting online services, house fellowship and group meetings in the quest to expand the kingdom work. Coming together of people at this period must be restricted to very important occasions, while strong cell leaders should be trained and set out to shepherd those new outreach centres to enhance the growth of the church.
Other areas of focus should be how the elderly and the children will be accommodated in this season as they are considered most vulnerable and should be protected against the infections. Special consideration for their spiritual lives must be developed without jeopardising their health and safety.
No physical anointing service should be conducted this season otherwise, individuals should be encouraged to bring their own oil and after praying on it, they could go ahead to anoint themselves, without giving room for sharing or touching from the minister. A similar method should be adopted for administering Holy Communion and other parts of the service that require physical contact.
Offering envelope should sparingly be shared or better still the church could ask each worshipper to make provision for their own envelop for offering from home and drop such at designated places with less contact with others or the object of collection.
The choir and instrumentalist should be encouraged to sanitize their equipment properly and measures should be taken to ensure that enough microphones are provided while discouraging sharing of such to avoid contamination and prevent possible spread of the disease.
It is important these and many measures are taking by leaders ahead of time of reopening so that the church will not be the guinea pig for the novel disease. Again, the church needs to prove wrong the naysayers who think the reopening of the church is too early in the day in view of the surging in the numbers of cases of infection.