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Covid-19 is shifting the spiritual atmosphere

Following an in-depth survey into church activity during the pandemic, Peter Lynas from the Evangelical Alliance says there are positive signs that online church is attracting people who wouldn’t usually come to in-person services

The Evangelical Alliance (EA) has conducted a second major survey of the UK church during the pandemic which shows that churches are continuing to innovate in order to meet the needs of those who attend services and those in their community. 

We have seen a marked shift in the spiritual atmosphere of the country throughout the pandemic. More people are praying, more people have watched church online and more young people are interacting with church. Through these results, we can see that not only are churches still active, but they also seem to be reaching more people.

The Changing Church Autumn Survey had responses from over 1,000 individuals and over 450 church leaders, giving the Evangelical Alliance a fuller picture of how churches are navigating the continually changing guidance and the challenge of lockdowns, circuits breakers, firebreaks and tier systems. The responses represent a good spread in terms of denomination, location and size.

Encouragingly, attendance at church services and small group gatherings over September and October was actually slightly higher than before Covid-19. Prior to the pandemic, individuals attended an average of 7.5 church services or small group gatherings every month. That number has risen to 8 events per month since the pandemic started. This increase is most obvious in the young with 96 per cent of 18-24-year-old’s attending their home church onlineat least once in the last month.

Our research showed that by October 2020 most churches had resumed meeting weekly (60 per cent), however less than 30 per cent of evangelical Christians are attending in-person church meetings on a weekly basis. Obviously, the various restrictions across the UK have had, and will continue to have, an impact on this. Encouragingly, almost all individual respondents (99.8 per cent) have been to a church service in the last month either online or in person.

Almost 90 per cent of those who were hosting online meetings have found that they have attracted viewers who would not normally attend church services. A fifth have seen a significant proportion of online viewers who wouldn’t usually attend. While new lockdown restrictions create challenges, especially in England and Wales, we have to remember that online services mean there has never been an easier time to sneak in the back door of church.

Christians remain committed to sharing their faith, with individuals having spoken to, on average, six non-Christians about their faith in the last three months. The main barrier has been the lack of face-to-face opportunities during the crisis. Overall, church leaders haven’t seen any decrease in the number of people responding to Jesus since before Covid-19, but there have been changes in different regions and depending on whether churches are gathering online or face-to-face. Those meeting face-to-face currently are more likely to have reported higher numbers of conversations and commitments to Jesus. Greater London has seen the biggest decrease and the east midlands has seen a significant increase in people making a commitment to Jesus.

The changing guidelines and restrictions continue to create challenges for churches. Children's ministry is one of the most challenging areas especially for smaller churches. Even prior to the recent lockdown in England, less than 20 per cent of churches across the UK were meeting in person every week for children’s ministry.

However, churches continue to engage in community transformation with large increases in the number of churches helping to deliver food or medicine and a moderate increase in mental health work. There have been small decreases in most other areas of serving, but particularly schools support, debt counselling and homelessness.

When it comes to church finances, there is a mixed picture, with church leaders indicating that the amount they receive in donations has decreased despite the church attendee results showing a slight increase. You can register for a free webinar on 11 November here co-hosted with Stewardship which will explore some of the reasons behind this.

As always, we hope these reports tell a story of what is currently happening, but more importantly, that they help our members and others to plan for the future. The Church has changed how it operates, but not what it does. There are undoubtedly challenges ahead for the church as there are for the nation as a whole. In recognition of this, the Evangelical Alliance has called a UK Day of Prayer on 13 November. Our prayer is that the Church across the UK will bring light in dark places and be a sign of healing and hope.

Christians have shown incredible creativity over the last few months. People have never been more dissatisfied with the secular story and more open to the spiritual. We know from the survey that Christmas will be a real challenge for many, but also an opportunity, and so we are working with others on fresh ways to share the good news of Jesus this Christmas.

Peter Lynas is UK Director of the Evangelical Alliance

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the publisher

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