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Thousands of churches offered remote worship during lockdowns, according to new report

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More than 9,000 churches (78%) offered ‘Church at Home’ online, via email, post and telephone during the March to July 2020 lockdown when collective worship was suspended because of the coronavirus restrictions.

More than 8,000, or 69%, offered livestreamed or pre-recorded services, while more than 5,000, or 44%, offered services downloadable from a website or emailed. Over 4,000, or 33%, offered printed and posted services and over  2,000, or 21%, provided telephone or dial-in services.

At the height of lockdown, churches across the Diocese of Norwich were delivering over 240 online services each week, as well as finding creative ways to engage and support their local communities. This included activity bags, deliveries, phone lines, podcasts and even radio shows!

The findings, from data gathered from 12,700 Church of England churches, show that rural churches were as successful as urban churches in providing remote worship once the size of parishes’ pre-pandemic congregations was taken into account.

The majority were continuing to offer these services in October last year even though most were also open for in-person collective worship.

The rise in ‘Church at Home’ services and remote worship came as the Church of England stepped up its programme of training in digital communication for congregations and clergy over 2020 to help churches provide remote worship during the pandemic.

A total of 7,000 people were trained in digital communications, live streaming and running online communities, seven times the figure for the previous year.

Hymns were downloaded more than a million times as part of resource provided by St Martin-in-the-Fields church, working with the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) and the Church of England. The facility was launched during the lockdown through the A Church Near You Resource Hub website.

Writing in the report, Dr Ken Eames, from the Church of England’s Research and Statistics Unit, said: “It would have been fascinating to have asked people early in 2020 whether they thought the Church of England would be able to switch at a moment’s notice to worshipping online and in other innovative ways; my guess is that the Church of England massively exceeded expectations.”

Welcoming the findings, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “I thank God for the work of the churches over the pandemic including the huge effort that was made to provide worship at home. This has been a source of comfort and strength to so many people during a very difficult and challenging time.

“It has also meant that many have been able to discover the Christian faith and hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time. Online services and videos have become part of a toolkit for how churches can offer worship. It is inspiring to see the life of our parishes sustained and revitalised in this way. ”

Those providing worship at home include the benefice of Broughton Gifford, Great Chalfield and Holt in Wiltshire, which attracted thousands of viewers to YouTube explanatory ‘Faith in the Village’ videos on Christianity during the lockdown.

Online services broadcast by the group had an ‘attendance’ of up to 400 viewers compared to a maximum congregation size in person of around 120 before the pandemic.

Rector Canon Andrew Evans said: “We had never thought of broadcasting online before the pandemic. We have been thrilled by the results.”