One of the responsibilities of the church is fostering community cohesion through the dissemination of messages that stir members of the public to develop positive attitudes. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria and its attendant economic consequences, Nigerians have increasingly looked up to faith-based organizations to provide leadership, guidance and hope in the face of increased hardship and heightened uncertainties. This is even more so as government ordered lockdowns have made physical church services impossible for several weeks now. These critical times also call for leadership from church leaders to disseminate and reinforce messages that will guide the public to safe-conduct as well as stimulate positive action in fellow church leaders.
One of the churches that have consistently demonstrated a high level of responsibility and responsiveness in this regard during the pandemic is The Elevation Church (TEC), a ten-year-old Christian ministry based in Lagos. While COVID-19 has foisted radical changes on our way of life, The Elevation Church has remained consistently responsive and dynamic in its communication and connection with the public.
After several weeks of staying under government-imposed lockdowns aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus, Nigerians are eager for things to get back to normal. However, with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increasing steadily, it has become necessary to be cautious as Nigerians resume activities.
Last week, the government began to fully relax the lockdown and announced the lifting of the embargo on physical church services. The temptation is for people to begin to throng to churches, with the tendency to disobey the rules of social distancing recommended by health experts to prevent the spread of the virus.
Responding to the situation, The Lead Pastor of The Elevation Church, Godman Akinlabi, has called for caution on the part of religious leaders and their congregation. Through a statement released from the church’s media office, he admonished church leaders across the country to approach the resumption of physical gatherings with critical thought, strategic planning, and a sense of responsibility for the safety and convenience of their members amid the continued spread of COVID-19. He also suggested that online services should remain a priority because the church is beyond a physical building.
“With the recent ease on the restriction of physical religious gatherings by the Federal Government, it is imperative that religious leaders assume the full responsibility of ensuring the safety of their members. There is the need for the full alignment of efforts from both religious leaders and State Governments on the safety precautions needed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in these gatherings prior to their commencement,” part of the statement reads.
According to a churchgoer who commented on the statement, Akinlabi’s admonition that the church is beyond a building and online services should remain a priority, is timely and right.
“This is because, just as Christians are not on the same level of maturity, so also are churches. Therefore, churches and congregations need to approach this with caution.”
The Elevation Church has also been extensively involved in ameliorating the economic pains of COVID-19. Through its Social Investment arm, the Pistis Foundation, the church has rolled in a set of initiatives designed to cushion the effect of the pandemic on struggling families in communities close to the church.
During the first phase of the COVID-19, 14-day lockdown in Lagos, Pistis Foundation, and its partners set up a food bank to provide staple foods to economically challenged households and also organised an outreach to provide primary healthcare for the sick. Within the first week, over 2,000 households had benefited from the food initiative with 250 persons receiving primary healthcare. Due to a surge in demand for assistance, following the extension of the lockdown by the Federal government, Pistis Foundation’s food distribution initiative reached 6,000 households with up to 24,000 people impacted.
Furthermore, The Elevation Church and Pistis Foundation distributed the relief materials in adherence to the social distancing preventive measure as advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Foundation set up a call centre, which received thousands of calls and emails from Nigerians in need, to process the selection and delivery of the relief materials. It also partnered with a logistics company to deliver the food packs to the recipients’ residences, cutting out the risk of spreading the virus through the programme.
The Elevation Church has a laudable tradition of responding to public developments through the dissemination of messages that advocate positive public attitude. In the past, the church has organized programs such as Vantage Forum and Accelerate, to set agendas for national development and economic growth.
Preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, The Elevation Church has long had a vibrant culture of social investment. With its key focus areas of education, health and shelter, Pistis Foundation has in the past, pioneered interventions such as the Ubomi Medical Outreach in March 2019, where it provided free extensive health care to 3695 beneficiaries with many receiving treatments for multiple ailments. Medical interventions included over 400 surgeries and aftercare for beneficiaries.
According to Lead Pastor, Godman Akinlabi, the culture of making social investments and uplifting lives is ingrained in the Church’s DNA.
“We have embedded within our DNA, an ingrained culture of practically uplifting lives. It is, therefore, consistent with this commitment that we rapidly responded and will continue to play our part in ameliorating this unfortunate hardship by providing relief materials and support to not only needing members, and to the most vulnerable of the society,” Akinlabi said.
Since the beginning of the Pandemic, The Elevation Church has been consistent in communicating with the public. In these difficult times, the church’s messages of hope, faith and love have helped several people stay strong. While COVID-19 put a halt to physical communications and physical church gatherings, this church strengthened its online communication and has consistently connected with its congregation and the general public through the deployment of motivational content via daily bulletins, communiques, blogs, and social media posts. The church has also effectively deployed content to motivate and inspire its audiences. The church has expanded its TV ministry and now broadcasts on Wazobia Max, Pop Central, Hallelujah Channel, TVC News, Dove TV, STV and TBN. to continually connect with the public, with the aim to edify, motivate and inspire.
The Elevation Church has also partnered with the Institute of Family Engineering and Development to provide free psychological counselling services to people who require support or a listening ear at this time, while also deploying more phone lines for church counselling services.
Lastly, a church does not only exist to minister to its members but also to advocate for the common good. These critical times call for leadership from church leaders to disseminate and reinforce messages that will guide the public to safe-conduct as well as stimulate positive action in fellow church leaders. In this regard, The Elevation Church stands unique with its fundamental principle of ‘Making Greatness Common’.
––Jackson writes from Lagos State.