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Coronavirus, Church and You survey results

What we have learnt from the Coronavirus, Church and You 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.

Use the links below to read about a specific topic:

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?

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 and on clergy and churchgoers across the Church of England.

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

In addition we have produced 2 journal articles.

In the first we looked at how the sense of feeling supported may have mitigated some of the negative effects of lockdown on stipendiary clergy:

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

In the second we are looking at a larger sample of clergy and laity and at a wide range of factors that were associated with increased or decreased wellbeing during the lockdown:

  • Village, A., and Francis, L. J. (2021). Exploring affect balance: Psychological wellbeing of Church of England clergy and laity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Journal of Religion & Health.

Better wellbeing was promoted by preference for feeling over thinking in the psychological type judging process, being older, belonging to the Evangelical wing of the Church, and living in rural areas.

Psychological well-being was lowered among people with a general tendency toward neuroticism, among those with an Epimethean (Sensing-Judging: SJ) psychological temperament, among Anglo-Catholics, among those living in inner cities, among clergy, and among those living with children under 13.

The mitigating effects of relevant support were evident for both clergy and lay people. A key finding was that it was those sources of support that were least often rated highly that may have had the strongest positive effects on wellbeing, particularly on those groups where wellbeing was lowest.

Attitudes and beliefs during lockdown

A key section in the questionnaire asked about a range of attitudes towards what had happened and what the future might hold.

From these items we created scales that measured three key attitudes: Pro Church Buildings, Anti Church Lockup, and Pro Virtual Church. Five sets of predictor variables were tested using hierarchical multiple regression: personal, psychological, social location, theological stance, and Church tradition factors.

Personal and psychological factors retained some predictive power after controlling for other sorts of factors. Those most pro virtual church were women, the middle-aged, intuitive and feeling psychological types, clergy, those living outside the inner cities, those who prefer modern forms of worship, those with more liberal views on doctrine and morality, and those who embrace Evangelical and Charismatic (rather than Anglo-Catholic) church traditions.

  • Village, A., and Francis, L. J. (Submitted for review). Shaping attitudes toward church in a time of Coronavirus: Exploring the effects of personal, psychological, social, and theological factors among Church of England clergy and laity.

Beliefs about Holy Communion came to the fore during lockdown, when this sacrament was denied most churchgoers. Our survey highlighted how different beliefs and practices surrounding the Eucharist within the Church of England particularly evident in lockdown, when those from the Evangelical wing were more supportive of allowing churchgoers to receive communion in their homes as part of online services than were those from the Anglo-catholic wing.

  • Francis, L. J., and Village, A. (Submitted for review). This blessed sacrament of unity? Holy Communion, the pandemic, and the Church of England.

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 2 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.

Women and men in the Church of England

The survey indicted there were some marked differences in the responses of men and women to the lockdown, and these are summarized in a Church Times article and in a journal article that should appear soon:

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 2020. 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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