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Research

Coronavirus, Church and You Survey

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

Interior of chapel

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.

An initial analysis of data for the Church of England (4700 respondents) was released at the end of June.

The full initial report can be downloaded here: 

Coronavirus, Church and You Survey Report (PDF, 1.2 MB)

About the survey

The pandemic 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 planned to ask them not just what they did but also what they felt about the experience, and what they thought the future might hold. Key questions for exploration 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?

Initial findings

Experience of the pandemic

About 3% of those surveyed definitely had the virus. A further 19% (867) were not sure if they had caught it or not because the symptoms can be mild or non-existent. The proportion has not changed significantly over the six weeks the survey has been running.  A much higher percentage (34%) reported that they self-isolated over and above the normal social distancing imposed on the general population.

Infection rates varied between age groups. It was more frequent among the under 50s (6%) that those aged 50-69 (4%) or 70+ (1%). This may reflect the likelihood that young people were working or in a family where someone was working, and older people found it easier to self-isolate.

Lockdown affected the psychological and spiritual well-being of people in different ways in different groups:

  • Women did better than men in several measures of wellbeing.
  • There was a strong age effect, with younger people suffering more than older people.
  • Those who had to self-isolate did not seem to suffer as a result. If anything, they were happier and felt closer to others and to God than those who did not.
  • Evangelicals consistently reported more positive experiences, while Anglo-Catholics reported more negative experiences, with broad church falling somewhere between the two.
  • Ministers were stressed but happy; those on the receiving end tended to be more relaxed but less happy.

Experiences of receiving and giving ministry

Of the 2462 people who received rather than gave ministry in the lockdown, 91% accessed services online using a variety of sources. By far the most frequently used was worship from a person’s own church.

People generally appreciated the quality of the services:

  • 56% felt they made full use of the medium
  • 35% felt they made some use
  • 10% felt they made little use.

Similarly, 46% felt services were professionally presented, and only 10% that they were amateurish. Despite this, relatively few thought that online was better than normal (12%). 58% felt there was not much difference, while 30% felt worship was worse.

When considering what might happen after lockdown when churches fully re-open, there was a mixed response. Over half (56%) said they would revert back to services in church, but 42% said they would use online worship sometimes if it was available. There seemed little danger of a mass exodus to the virtual world, with only 2% thinking they would worship mainly or entirely online.

Attitudes to the lockdown

As the lockdown came into force it was clear that a number of related but slightly different issues would confront the Church during and after the pandemic

While the majority opinion supported closing churches to everyone, this was by no means universal. There was clear a minority view that churches should either not have been closed at all, or that clergy at least should have been allowed in.

Indications so far suggest that:

  • People in different traditions within the Church of England have responded in different ways to the closing of churches. Evangelicals seemed less worried than Anglo-Catholics.
  • We need to be careful not to make easy assumptions about who values buildings or who is cagey about virtual church: it is not necessarily those in the countryside or older people.
  • More detailed examination of the final dataset from the survey may help to show other factors that must be considered, such as personality differences between people and variations between regions in England.

Survey reports

Coping with the COVID-19 lockdown

The survey closed in July 2020, and by then there were over 7,000 responses. We analysed data from 5,347 people in the Church of England to explore how they were affected psychologically and emotionally by being in lockdown. The results showed that

  • Stress and psychological wellbeing were unevenly distributed. Younger people and working clergy felt most stressed. Anglo-catholics and those in inner cities reported more negative affect.
  • Most people in the Church of England felt they coped well or very well with the lockdown. Those that coped less well tended to be the more stressed, but being well supported, especially at home, seemed to mitigate some of pressures and increased the sense of coping.

Download Coronavirus, Church and You report: Coping with the Crisis (PDF, 0.2 MB)

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 than 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 two surveys, though there were some interesting differences that relate to the specific beliefs and practices of the two denominations.

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

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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