New research has revealed that churches in the UK have seen an increase in attendance for both in-person services and online services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Evangelical Alliance surveyed more than 100 Christians and 450 church leaders from a variety of denominations to get a full picture of how churches are navigating the challenges that come with the pandemic. It found that church services and small groups attendance is now higher than before COVID-19. On average respondents had been to eight meetings in the past month compared to 7.5 in an average month before the pandemic.
Peter Lynas, director of the UK Evangelical Alliance, told Premier it was encouraging to discover that the increase in attendance is most notable in the youngest age bracket. 96 per cent of those aged 18-24 had attended their home church online in the past month, which is higher than attendance at in-person gatherings before the crisis.
"Online church can be easier to access, they're [young people] more familiar with online. Somebody put it this way, there's never been an easier time to sneak in the back door of church. So online can be really convenient. It can be a stepping stone for people to coming in person. That younger demographic are very used to engaging in all sorts of things online. So for them, it can be an easier way of engaging."
The study, titled Changing Church, also found that those from a lower-income household were less likely (45 per cent) than those from more affluent households (51 per cent) to have attended church during the same period.
Also, church leaders indicated that as a congregation they are continuing to respond to the needs they are seeing in their local communities; 49 per cent of churches are involved in food and medicine delivery and 54 per cent are befriending the elderly and isolated.
Lynas added: "There have been various media reports highlighting the incredible response of the UK church to the practical needs of their communities. Serving the poor, supporting the vulnerable and feed and caring for those on the fringes have always been central to the mission of the church. This year, as the need has grown, so has the willingness of the church to respond."
However, the report did reveal some challenges facing churches. Nearly half of churches are seeing reduces donations and less than one in five churches are running in-person children's work weekly.
As the whole of Britain is experiencing some sort of lockdown which has impacted church services, Lynas encouraged church leaders to not be weary in finding ways to evangelise and serve.
"Christians are still seeing non-Christians come in, they're still sharing their faith," Lynas said. "Leaders are still seeing the same number of people come to Jesus before Covid and during these changes. So yes, evangelism looks different, but it can still happen. The Church can still be missional in this moment. And yes, we get that it's tiring for leaders, but this isn't the end of everything just because churches can't open their doors in the way that they could. That doesn't mean we have to stop doing it."