The Church of England’s national online services alone have attracted more than 3.7 million views since the first restrictions on gatherings for public worship to limit the spread of Covid-19 were introduced almost a year ago.
Clips and content from the services have been seen 40 million times on social media channels.
The Church of England’s prayer and discipleship apps – through which people can join in ancient services of morning and evening prayer from wherever they are – have been accessed eight million times, up 50 per cent on the previous year.
These figures are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg as churches’ response to the pandemic triggered a major change in the way Christians worship and reach out to their neighbours. At least 20,000 services and other online events are now listed on the Church of England’s ‘church-finder’ website AChurchNearYou. A year ago there were none.
Looking to the future
As churches look ahead to an expected easing of restrictions and more public gatherings, many are assessing how to incorporate the lessons of the last year into their regular patterns of worship and outreach after the pandemic.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “The last year has been a time of loss, separation and pain for everyone. Not always being able to meet together for prayer and worship has made that even more difficult and I long for the day when we can gather together before God’s face.
“Yet amid all of this, God has been with us and has done something new which we could not have imagined a year ago. We have sung the Lord’s song in a virtual foreign land. As we look and plan ahead it’s not a question of either online worship or meeting in-person, but of how we will be shaped by the experience and commitments of the last year, to try new things, to value the things we perhaps took for granted before, and to reach out to more people with the invitation to participate in the good news of Jesus Christ.”
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell said: “I think there has been a digital coming of age.
“Of course we long to meet in person, but online services can be very beautiful. People of different ages, from different parts of the country or even the world, families sitting together, people watching whilst having a cup of coffee are all coming together to worship online in ways that we just couldn’t have imagined a year ago. Many churches report that they have more people participating in their online services than used to meet in person."
Support and training
The Diocese of Manchester offers training in social media and digital technologies, and support through its Digital Support Facebook group. See the diocesan Communications and Digital Resources page
The Church of England also offer training and resources through its Digital Labs