In Covid times, Ghana's 2.0 churches thrive

·3 min read

The pandemic has forced many Christian Ghanaians to change their religious practices, with churches turning to online services and donations, and live streaming funerals.

More than 70 percent of the West African country's 30 million people are Christian, mainly Pentecostals or Evangelists, who have had to abide by strict rules in churches to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

"We are following the government's instructions to the letter. But Covid-19 has significantly affected our attendance," said Reverend Kofi Oduro Agyeman-Prempeh from the Destiny Adenta church in a suburb of the capital Accra.

More than 92,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Ghana and 780 people have died although the true figure is believed to be higher because of a lack of testing.

"Even though the national numbers are low these days, I can see that the fear of contamination is still present. During mass, the faithful are more hesitant to stand up, dance and sing," Agyeman-Prempeh added.

In an effort to reassure his congregation, the reverend registered the church on Asoriba, an app and website that connects churches to worshippers.

Founded in Ghana in 2015, the app provides tools to pastors to organise events, monitor attendance and communicate with members.

Since the arrival of the pandemic, subscriptions have increased by 30 percent, the founders say.

"The pandemic has validated everything we have done so far. We have identified a real need. We know that the future will be digital, including the future of religious practices," said one of Asoriba's co-founders, Saviour Kwaku Dzage.

Once registered on the platform, worshippers can easily send donations via mobile transfer.

"Even during Covid, the church needs this money to grow and to help the needy. And since cash is seen as a potential vector of contamination, online payment seemed like the obvious solution," Dzage said.

- Virtual funerals -

Half of Ghanaians do not have access to internet but with a majority of its population under 30, digital penetration has accelerated in recent years, increasing from 23.5 percent in 2015 to 55.6 percent in 2020, according to Ghana's national statistics office.

Before the pandemic, funerals in Ghana were famous around the world for being colourful events, with music, songs and dances. With the arrival of Covid, funerals were first limited to 100 people and then 25.

"It's been heartbreaking for us," said Reverend Banister Tay, operations manager for Transitions, a funeral service based in Accra.

"Since only a handful of relatives are now able to attend the ceremony in person, we had to offer the others a way to attend virtually."

With the aim of "digitising the funeral industry", Transitions has been offering streaming services and a platform for online donations since 2018.

"When Covid came along, we were already ahead," said Tay, adding that they had to suddenly step up their game.

"Just one percent of our customers were using our streaming services before the pandemic, they are now almost 90 percent."

During services, filming crews buzz around: three cameras usually film indoors while another films outdoors to capture the arrivals of those lucky enough to attend in person.

Two Transitions staff manage the flow of live pictures and collect money sent online.

"This pandemic was an opportunity to educate Ghanaians that funerals can also be done online, and that you don't lose anything. We even realised that online donations were superior to physical donations!"

Tay is optimistic for the future and thinks virtual funerals will continue after the restrictions are lifted.

"A sizeable portion of our streaming audience are members of the diaspora. Many Ghanaians live abroad and cannot always return home when they lose a loved one. It is also for them that we thought of this solution."

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