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Research

Coronavirus, Church and You Survey

Key findings from a survey to find the impact of lockdown on churchgoers.

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Covid-19 & Church-21: What now and what next?

Our new survey is now ready!

If we have learnt anything since last March it is that, with COVID-19, nothing stands still. Just when you think you have worked out what’s going on, another twist in the saga seems to plunge you back to square one. Has Lockdown 2021 simply returned us full circle, or are we in a different place now from last March? Since then, a lot has changed, and we have also learnt great deal. What is different this time is that vaccines offer a genuine hope that there will be a better future somewhere down the road. So now seems a good time to take stock and look ahead.

We would like to get a sense of how clergy and lay people are coping with the current lockdown. The blossoming of different forms of online and socially-distanced worship has shown the creativity of local churches, but also the variations in how much can be achieved. We’d like to make a detailed audit of what has been done, and what those who produce or access services make of them now. Lockdown church life has become more familiar, but have we grown to like it any better?

Our work with personality helped to bust the myth that introverts would love lockdown and extroverts would wither away. Not so, but the picture is complicated, and we would like to gather more data to test out some new ideas.

Finally, we want to know what people think about the future of the church post pandemic. We would like to see if opinions have shifted on things like the fragility of the church and the future of virtual church, as well as asking about some more general theological issues. Lockdown has made us re-evaluate the role of Holy Communion in worship, and some have also wondered about how we can understand the role of God in the pandemic.

The Covid-19 & Church-21 survey is your opportunity to be part of this crucial research project. It will take about 20 minutes of your time, which will enable you to give a thorough picture of your experiences and opinions. Thank you if you took part last time, and we look forward to seeing what emerges now. 

Use the link below to start the survey.

The online survey Coronavirus, Church and You ran from 8 May to July 2020. Over 7000 people took part.

Although intended for the Church of England, it was open to clergy and lay people from any denomination in the UK. Linked surveys were run among Roman Catholics in the UK and Ireland, and in the Episcopal Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

An initial analysis of data for the Church of England (4700 respondents) was released at the end of June 2020. Since then we have produced reports for the other surveys and are continuing to publish articles and academic papers. 

We are preparing a second survey, which we hope to launch during the 2021 lockdown.

About the first survey

The first national lockdown closed churches across the UK and severely restricted ministry in areas such as pastoral care, fellowship groups, and serving the community.

For churchgoers with online access, worship took on new and creative forms. Many clergy and ministry teams rose to the challenge of operating in the virtual environment.  The crisis proved to be a tragedy but also an opportunity.

It seemed important to find out quickly how this was affecting churches and churchgoers. Professor Andrew Village has long experience of surveying clergy and lay people. He joined forces with visiting Professor Leslie J. Francis to reach a large sample of churchgoers, clergy, and lay people. They asked them not just what they did but also what they felt about the experience, and what they thought the future might hold. Key questions explored were:

  • How well did people cope with the pandemic?
  • Did it strengthen or weaken their faith?
  • How was it for clergy and ministry teams trying to work in this new environment?
  • How have those receiving ministry found this novel experience?
  • Will virtual ministry become part of the post-pandemic landscape, and will this be a good move for churches?

Publications from the survey to date

So far, the output from the survey consists of papers in the academic literature and a series of linked articles in the Church Times which summarise the findings for a wider readership.

We have concentrated initially on summarizing key findings that are of particular relevance to the Church.

The full initial report can be downloaded below:

The papers compared attitudes to lockdown between various groups, particularly in the Church of England.

Wellbeing during lockdown

The issue of wellbeing and mental health has been a central concern for government and health professionals during the crisis. Our survey had items designed to explore how wellbeing might have changed among churchgoers during lockdown.

We have published an initial report on this subject and have followed with some more detailed work on stipendiary clergy.

In this paper (currently in press) we looked at how the sense of feeling supported may have mitigated some of the negative effects of lockdown.

  • Village, Andrew and Francis, Leslie J. (2021, under review). Wellbeing and perceptions of receiving support among Church of England clergy during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Mental Health Religion & Culture.

We are now looking at a wider sample that includes lay people as well as the clergy. The initial analysis suggests that it is not necessarily the most used sources of support that are the most important. For example, fewer people reported receiving support from their neighbours, but when they did it was more important in offsetting the negativity than, say, support from one's household. Surprisingly, it was not the elderly who benefitted most from neighbours, but younger people. Watch this space for more details as we complete this work.

Rural churches in the pandemic

There has been a long-standing concern that rural churches are 'fragile' and could easily become unsustainable due to falling numbers and insufficient finance. The pandemic may have exacerbated this trend.

When we looked at the experiences of rural clergy and laity in the first lockdown, it was similar in many respects to churchgoers elsewhere, although rural churches seemed better placed to serve their local communities and to offer 'occasional offices' (baptisms, weddings or funerals). The data also showed that, although the 'fragile church thesis' is not limited to rural ministry, it is more in evidence in rural areas.

Retired clergy

The Church of England is relying more and more on its retired clergy to keep services going in some areas. We compared their views to church life in the pandemic with those of clergy who are still in paid ministry, and this reveals some interesting differences.

On the one hand, retired clergy seemed as positive as other clergy about employing digital means to meet the liturgical and pastoral demands of lockdown. On the other hand, they were less convinced that the digital world was the way ahead for the future, they stressed more strongly the importance of buildings for church life, and they were less pessimistic about the longer-term impact on the church.

Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals

The two main wings of the Church of England have distinct views about doctrine and worship, and these emerged in our initial report published in June. Our follow-up analysis has shown in more detail how a range of attitudes towards the lockdown and virtual church vary between these two groups.

The greater concern of Anglo-Catholics for centrality of buildings in the life of the Church is evident, and this is the subject of a paper (still under review) that combines the main survey with the data for Roman Catholics in the UK. When we do this, we can see how closely beliefs about buildings align between Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics, and between Evangelicals and Free churches, with ‘middle of the road’ Anglicans falling somewhere between (as they often do!). Interestingly, it is younger, rather than older Catholics who are most hefted to buildings. Watch this space for more details as they are published.

  • Francis, Leslie J., and Village, Andrew. (2021 Under review). Reading the Church of England's response to the Covid-19 crisis: The diverging views of Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical clergy
  • Village, Andrew, and Francis, Leslie J. (2021 under review). Churches and faith: Attitude towards church buildings during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown among churchgoers in England.

Roman Catholics in the UK

As well as the main survey, we also produced versions that were adjusted slightly to be more suited for Roman Catholics rather than other denominations. The survey was disseminated through Catholic channels, notably Catholic Voices, from 19 May to 26 July. There were 2,292 useable responses, of which 93% were lay people (a much higher proportion that in the main survey).

The report below details the responses in a similar fashion to the initial report from the main survey. In general, responses were fairly similar in the 2 surveys, though there were some interesting differences that relate to the specific beliefs and practices of the 2 denominations.

Download Coronavirus Church and You Roman Catholics UK Survey Report (PDF, 1.4 MB)

Coronavirus, Church and You survey in Ireland

In May 2020, the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education (MDDCE) at Dublin City University launched the Coronavirus, Church and You survey for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Over a 6 week period, there were 1,428 respondents:

  • 95% identified as Roman Catholic and 84% indicated they lived in the Republic of Ireland
  • 87% of respondents were laypeople.

An article entitled ‘Responses of clergy and lay people to the COVID-19 crisis’ will be published in March’s edition of The Furrow. Other updates will be available on the MDCCE website.

The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf

This diocese serves the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. It was keen to be part of the survey, but some of the questions needed to be adapted to fit the particular circumstances of the widespread and diverse community.

The report is based on the 148 people who responded to the survey, and shows that the results, while similar to those from the UK, nonetheless have some marked differences, which may be attributed to the particular circumstances of the Diocese.

Download Coronavirus, Church and You: Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf Report (PDF, 0.5 MB)

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