Kenya-Re Seventh-day Adventist Church is an English-speaking congregation in Kisumu, Kenya, under the Central Nyanza Conference in the West Kenya Union Conference. It has a regular baptized membership of 909. If children and nonbaptized attendees are included, the total goes up to about 1,400. For ease of administration, membership is divided into nine groups known as areas (determined geographically), with each having an elder in charge.
INTRODUCTION OF CHURCH FINANCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
In November 2019, our church had been selected by the Central Nyanza Conference as one of the pilot churches for the pioneering of a digital platform initiated by the East-Central Africa Divisionfor returning tithes and giving offerings. The platform was called the Church Finance Management System, abbreviated as CFMS. This system allows members to conveniently return their tithes and give offerings digitally using their mobile phones, either through a USSD code or a CFMS app currently available on the Play Store for Android devices. The journey began with a series of trainings on the use of the system conducted by our local conference, union, and division IT, treasury, and stewardship personnel.
Our delegation wholly embraced the system since we had been desiring a digital means of running our church finances. The first step was the registration of all regular and Sabbath School members into the system on laptops, which we began immediately after the introductory training in the last quarter of 2019, continuing through January 2020. We registered all the church members. The trainings were backed up with vigorous promotion of the new system to the church members every Sabbath by the pastor and the church elders.
We successfully went live on January 18, 2020, completely discontinuing manual receipting of tithes and offerings. All financial transactions since have been done through this system installed on laptops. Members are able to receive digital receipts on their phones.
SUDDEN CLOSURE OF PUBLIC WORSHIP
The news of the coronavirus and the virus itself were spreading globally, but in our local community it sounded like a very distant problem that did not demand much attention. Then the Kenyan government officially announced stringent public health measures; cessation of sporting activities; curfew; and the closure of schools, churches, hotels, and other social gathering places.
Following the directives from the government and the local union and conference leadership, we formally announced the closure of physical public worship on Sabbath, March 14, 2020. We advised our members to continue gathering in small groups of fewer than ten people in their various prayer cells, admitting only those living in the same locality, even if they observed all the COVID-19 health protocols. Families of about ten members were advised to worship by themselves.
We were also compelled to procure facilities that enabled us to reach a certain section of our members via online worship, through Zoom, Facebook Live, and even YouTube, which still continue because some of our members belong to at-risk groups and are therefore still not permitted to join the public worship
Though public worship and traditional ways of returning tithes and giving offerings were suddenly disrupted, the faithfulness of the members was not disturbed. This digital platform provided the members with a very convenient way of still worshipping God with their resources in tithes and offerings, even if physical church meetings were not possible.
CMFS came to us at the right time as a church. When places of worship were closed from March to June 2020, more members began to find it convenient to use the digital platform and return their tithe and give offerings from the comfort of their homes or workplaces. In fact, the three months when the churches were closed comprised the period when we recorded the highest figures in tithes and offerings.
BENEFITS WITNESSED WITH CFMS
CFMS has led to the easy generation of financial reports on demand, and the church is enabled to make timely decisions that touch on finances. It also makes it very easy to retrieve old records for references. It provides audit trails, which facilitate financial accountability and transparency.
Members have been enabled to return their tithes anywhere at any time, thereby reducing the temptation of diverting tithes and offerings in the course of waiting until Sabbath to take it to church. It has helped our church to sustain and improve giving during the global pandemic because of the convenience and accuracy of the system.
Direct transfer of Trust Funds to the conference has been made easy. CFMS has also relieved our treasury of much tedious paperwork and manual recording. Church members get real-time text confirmations through their mobile phones for the tithes and offerings they contribute, directly in contrast to the old ways of waiting until the next Sabbath to receive their receipts in envelopes.
There are members who found the break from the traditional way of physically carrying an offertory envelope to church different and unsettling. Members who were reluctant to adopt the digital way of returning offerings were advised to find time in the course of the week to walk into the church and place their offerings into the offertory boxes, which were strategically placed. However, the number who chose to do this was significantly small.
Other challenges witnessed in the initial stages were technical (too few laptops and laptops that were too old) have been surmounted. The workload was also overwhelming, taking into account the fact that almost all church members were using envelopes to return tithes in the initial stages, and kept insisting on manual receipts. However, through concerted education, every Sabbath member gradually started to adopt the online system and became comfortable with the digital receipts they were receiving on their phones.
LESSONS FROM THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH
The early church is a model for worship during crisis. Powered by the Holy Spirit, the church did not only survive but thrived amid persecution, economic hardship, and doctrinal conflict. Paul summarized the life of the apostolic church thus: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:8-10, NIV).
Paul, while encouraging the spirit of benevolence of the Corinthians, writes,“We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Cor. 8:1-5, NIV).
Severe affliction and poverty did not
dampen the spirit of fellowship and giving
in the early church, neither should it do
so to the remnant church. The modern
church can draw valuable lessons on resilience
and faithfulness from the apostolic
church for our worship in these times of
the COVID-19 pandemic. Modern technology
provides a suitable platform, which the
church can use to continue running the
race and keeping the faith in stewardship
during these difficult times.
This is the right time to claim the words of the hymn “We Have an Anchor”:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love. £