Reactions to pandemic

Summary

Poll conducted during the middle of April 2020 i.e. about three weeks into the coronavirus lock-down. 1026 respondents from the Christian Research Resonate panel. 23% are church leaders.

At this time nearly 90% of churches were conducting alternatives to their normal community service. A small number were relying on the services of others largely because they did not feel they had the skills to do better.

The Eucharist in particular was causing problems with 30% having stopped it completely and only 18% celebrating it online and encouraging viewers to take their own bread and wine at home.

Nearly 1 in3 of the church leaders did not feel they were adequately equipped to support their congregations online. Their concerns are initially around not having the necessary technical skills and equipment but even at this early stage they are beginning to anticipate problems with finance, mental health and other areas and not feeling they are adequately supported by their leadership.

Their major concerns for their congregations at this time are around their inability to be able to keep in contact with everybody. There are concerns for the elderly and vulnerable who are the most likely to be without internet access. They are also beginning to be concerned about how they deal with marking death and grief appropriately and anticipating mental health issues ahead. Whilst there are views both ways, more feel this will lead to a drop in congregations’ long term.

The overwhelming need of support from church leaders is for prayer. They feel unsupported both from their leadership and in inadequate networks with their peers to enable them to share ideas. Online prayer resources are also a need for congregations and we should be facilitating ministers in providing this with a particular emphasis on Bible related prayer.

New initiatives in churches are currently largely around duplicating online as many of the previous activities as they can and subsequently around pastoral care. Ministers are aware that there are numbers of their congregations who are elderly and/or clinically vulnerable for whom internet access is a problem and are already beginning to suffer from loneliness and other stresses. They are in many cases mobilising their community to contact and befriend each other through buddy and neighbourhood schemes using phone trees etc. One cause for concern in this area is where they want to distribute personal details to aid pastoral communications in ways not anticipated when GDPR was set up and hence technically disallowed.

With regard to initiatives for the community beyond their congregation, most were partnerships with other community groups, parish or town council, food banks, homeless shelters etc. Many were also encouraging and helping their congregation to reach out to all neighbours.

Church leaders think that the role of providing spiritual and practical aid and support are equally important. When asked if it was important to offer a Biblical perspective inly 11% agreed.

Many leaders think the longer-term effects will include decline in both finance and congregation numbers but most think there will be opportunities both to rethink the institutional structure of the church and its relevance and relationship with society at the community level.

Remembering that this panel is of practising Christians and likely to be Loving or infrequent Personas it may be surprising that 92% said they would either start reading their Bible regularly or read it more. There is also a greater likelihood for the majority to watch more online sermons and have phone or video prayer meetings.

Chapter 1: General situation

As of mid-April 2020, 88% of churches were already running alternative activities to their normal community services.

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Base: All church leaders

 

In addition to their alternatives to the usual service, about 40% were also distributing sermons and prayers by post and using various online technologies such as WhatsApp to bring prayer groups and home groups together.

 

The most frequently used technology for running alternatives is Zoom.

 

Base: All church leaders

 

The other methods are a mixture of both email and postal mail with the most common technologies mentioned being Facebook messenger and WhatsApp.

service prepared as email attachment which can be printed off  an distributed to those who  do not have a computer (they miss out on the utube parts but can have the rest)

Many had already recognised that a proportion of their congregation do not have the technical ability and/or equipment to deal with online activities. Nearly 10 % were doing little or nothing

 

we are using some of the services others are broadcasting

More services on TV as the congregation is mainly elderly and not connected by internet

 

Largely because unsure of their technical ability they felt others were doing it better

 

Celebration of the Eucharist

 

For those churches for whom the Eucharist is an important part of their usual celebration, they are of course unable to hold this in lock-down. So what are they doing instead?

Base: All church leaders

 

Most churches are running this on Zoom followed by YouTube.

It is not clear whether those who have suspended it completely have done so because they do not feel it theologically valid or because they do not think their congregations find it necessary or essential. Suspension is more likely in independent churches than in Anglican or Catholic ones.

Among the other views expressed one or two said they were not doing it at all because it was not appropriate but the majority of other views were around people celebrating it in their homes as they saw fit. Many felt that Jesus’ call to share supper was universal and that the intentionality was fundamental and more relevant than the rank of the celebrant.

 

 

Chapter 2: Church Leaders

 

23% of respondents lead a church as an ordained minister, professional church leader or similar role.

Questions in this chapter were asked only of church leaders therefore. Base for graphs is ‘all church leaders‘, unless otherwise indicated.

 

88% of church leaders said they were already running an alternative to usual services but only 71% of church leaders already feel that they are equipped to support members of their congregation remotely. Of the nearly 1 in 3 who feel ill equipped to support their congregations their concerns are largely about needing guidance on how to help members who are not online and a need for technical help and equipment to enable them to be church online.

 

Fear - especially among higher church leadership. This will undoubtedly have a financial impact and that will only make their fear worse as they have a tendency to place the institution above the Kingdom anyway.

 

For those who do not feel well equipped their main reasons for feeling this are

(In order of frequency of mentions)

 

  • Lack of technology and lack of confidence in technology
  • Fear of congregations falling away not to return
  • Concern of what ‘normal’ will be like afterwards
  • Inability to deal with scale of death and inability to properly memorialise
  • Loss of income/leadership leading to long-term decline
  • Not knowing how to find all we should be helping
  • People without technology
  • Ensuring no one is left out
  • Fear and uncertainty

 

In summary, they are concerned that they need to learn and use new technologies but even when they do, they may miss people, either because they lack the technology/skills to communicate with them or just because they do not know how to find them. There is also much concern about the long term; Losing parishioners, what the new normal be like, and how to deal with the long term stress and mental health likely to arise from increased deaths and the inability to suitably grieve.

 

The ability of the national Church to speak to and serve the nation and local communities effectively at this time, and to engage with the social change that will result.

 

What are the church leaders’ biggest concerns for their congregations at this time?

 

(In approximate order of frequency of mentions)

  • Loneliness and isolation, especially amongst the elderly and those without computer access
  • Concern over reaching as many as possible to maintain ministry
  • Inability to mark death and grief appropriately
  • People failing to return to church afterwards/drifting away/becoming armchair Christians
  • General uncertainty causing mental ill-health

 

The fear and distress people are feeling; isolation and perhaps mental health problems in those in isolation and lonely; the plight of the elderly, homeless, refugees and others who cannot care for themselves and may not have others to help them

That many of my congregation will die. That for many, mental health will quickly  deteriorate. That relationships within households will be severely tested.

 

How can church leaders be best supported during this time?

 

The overwhelming request is for prayer. Following which, although many are well equipped and confident there are strong and immediate requests for:

  • The ability and equipment in media and technology to reach as many as possible. This includes better broadband, more equipment and software, training in video and other techniques.
  • Communication with peers in church leadership to share ideas and problems, sharing good practice.
  • Better and more proactive guidance from church leaders. Some feel they have just shut up shop.
  • Financial support. Many worried about increasing costs of technology and telecoms etc. as income starts to decrease.

 

 

 

These however are initial and immediate concerns. Looking forward there are great concerns over the medium to long-term effects, both for their congregations and themselves. They are concerned for the mental health and wellbeing of all. They see it as part of their role to support this in the community yet at the same time feel they are being stressed yet not adequately supported by the church hierarchy. Other research shows that even in ‘normal’ times congregations feel they are supporting their clergy better than the clergy feel supported so the gap is exacerbated when the congregations are inevitable more concerned for themselves.

Some specific suggestions are:

  • Opening churches for prayer and streaming (with social distancing)
  • Relaxation of copyright and licensing
  • Relaxation of GDPR where it hinders communication
  • Reduction of administration needs to allow ministers to concentrate on ministry
  • Help in sharing best practice at a grass roots level

 

New initiatives started

 

Church leaders were asked what new initiatives they had started either for their congregation specifically or for the wider community apart from online service replacements.

For the congregation

In addition to streaming some sort of service online most churches are also trying to put as much of their existing activity as possible online. This includes newsletters, prayer and bible study groups etc. They are using a variety of methods, mainly Facebook and WhatsApp and Zoom and YouTube for video.

The main concentration of activity is around pastoral care. Many if not most have set up some sort of system for keeping communication open, especially with the vulnerable. We could not identify anything particularly innovative but there were a variety of phone, email and video techniques applied and the have been using a variety of buddy, neighborhood schemes, using electoral rolls and phone trees, chains and other methods to ensure everyone is contacted regularly.

Other areas mentioned by a few included food delivery and other shopping activities, providing tech training and advice for congregations to get them all online. No one mentioned provision or help with the provision of equipment. One or two mentioned the provision of non-religious-specific activities such as online art classes to help with mental health.

For the wider community

The responses varied widely from those who said ‘nothing’ to one who said ‘too much to list’. The most common new initiative is to work with other community groups such as local council, community support hubs, food banks etc. Some churches were also working with local schools and nursery groups to provide online teaching and singing. Many were organizing their congregation into providing help and support to their neighborhood and seeing it as an opportunity to outreach to previously untouched neighbours.

Most were also seeing it as an opportunity to advertise and promote their regular activities to a wider audience who may be more receptive in the current times.

Long term effects

 

93% of church leaders think the situation will have long-term effects on the wider church but that in the meantime during situations of crisis the church’s role should be:

Base: All church leaders

 

mainly the offering a biblical perspective because nobody else will be doing that, offering hope through Jesus.

This may well be a Bible Society member but we should take note as it may well contain an element of reality

However, in the long term church leaders think the major effects will be a period of decline both financially and in loss of attendance, others see it as an opportunity with more people coming to faith. One or two said they think things will get back to normal very quickly and there will be little long-term effect. Most however, think there will be long-term changes and that we need to grasp the opportunities now.

What has happened is so significant in impact and ramifications that I don't feel our communities will ever be the same again. My sense is that the Church as a community needs to be open to step into the spaces that this creates as well as being alongside their communities in living through the challenges that will grow out of this.

On balance, more think there will be a decline in church attendance. There will be better and increased use of technology for online activities but not enough to make up for the drop in congregations. We should be looking at developing ways we can both approach people at home directly and help ministers top do this. This will be especially important for the elderly and vulnerable who choose not to go back to church, either soon or ever. And to consider those who currently do not have good online access.

We need to think of more ways we can reach out to the wider community, especially the lonely and isolated. We are going to have to think of different ways of worship

There is agreement that there will be financial problems but there will be opportunities. Many feel this is a once in a lifetime chance to rethink the institutional superstructure of the church which some see as redundant. It is a chance for the church to reconnect with communities and forge a new and more cohesive role in society.

 

Specific things that can and maybe should happen are:

Rethinking new ways of meeting and worship

Fully grasping and utilising new technology

Reimagining the role of the pastor in the community

Better/more teaching about death

Developing a role in community healing and mental health.

 

A renewed vision for a wider and deeper understanding of what church is and could be - with some very contrasting bit to that: we will certainly lose people to death through the virus; I think it's likely - depending on how long it goes on - that others who were already on the edge will simply lose the habit. However I already see signs of people new to faith, or who had given up the practice of their faith a long time ago, feeling drawn in a new way to pray, reflect and take seriously the claims of the Gospel. I think we need to be getting ready now for what in my view will be a welcome reshaping of the churches - and in my view that could and should mean a dismantling of much redundant institutional superstructure.

 

 

Chapter 3: Congregation

 

What do the congregation think?

 

81% of the congregation feel that their church is equipped to support members of the congregation remotely. This compares with only 71% of church leaders who feel they are well equipped.

 

85% of the congregation felt that their church was running something comparable as a substitute to the usual Sunday service but in some online form compared with 88% of church leaders.

The activities being run by the church leaders has been analysed in chapter 1 above and the range of activists and methods of delivery used by the congregation match quite closely.

Chapter 4: Personal views overall

On a scale of 1=highly unlikely to 5= highly likely they thought they had a likelihood of 2.8 of getting Covid 19 personally, i.e. slightly less than average.

On a scale of 1=highly unlikely to 5= highly likely they thought they had a likelihood of 2.8 of getting Covid 19 personally, i.e. slightly less than average.

But when asked how concerned they were personally about the Covid-19 situation in general, on a scale of 5= Extremely concerned to 1 = Not at all concerned they scored 3.4

This correlates with results from similar questions to the public and seems to be largely on the basis that although only a small proportion of the public will actually catch the disease we will all be affected by the consequences to some extent or other.

Asked ‘to what extent do you think this will have lasting ramifications for the country?’

So most people were much more concerned for the country as a whole than for themselves personally with a majority (61%) feeling it would affect the country to a great extent.

 

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