Church leaders want urgent financial support from the Government to protect church buildings.
It's after a new report has highlighted the UK's increasing reliance on mainly-volunteer led services including food banks, mental health counselling and youth groups based in churches, chapels and meeting houses.
The House of Good report from the National Churches Trust found UK churches provide £12.4 billion worth of essential social and economic support to local communities during the 12 months up until May 2020. That's roughly equal to the total NHS spending in England on mental health in 2018.
The report says church buildings are effectively running a 'National Help Service'.
Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, Claire Walker said: "During the COVID-19 pandemic, church buildings were placed in the same category as gyms and cinemas and forced to lock down. But for the most vulnerable in our society, the support church buildings offer is not a recreational choice - it's an essential need - and lockdown served to highlight the increasing reliance of people on this support. These buildings have become our National Help Service.
The report states that most churches that provided community support during the Covid-19 pandemic are under threat because support for essential maintenance and repair from the Government and other funding bodies are drying up.
Walker added: "This is a National Help Service that we risk losing and may never be able to replace if these buildings do not get the financial support they need. Each year, we receive thousands of requests for help from churches desperately in need of repairing the roof, or installing kitchen facilities and toilets, but we are only able to fund a quarter of these. For this reason, we are urgently calling on local and national government and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to recognise the continuing need for their support."
The report features case studies from churches in Bradford, London, Hull and Tamworth.
Fr Michael White, who leads Sacred Heart Church, Tamworth said: "We're really very much aware that everything we do is done almost entirely by volunteers, so we've got over 200 volunteers from our church running all the services.
"Some of them maybe just do the Winter Night Shelter or the Summer Scheme, but that's the life blood of our outreach work and it's worth if you added the hours up, just purely add the hours up and multiply them by £10 an hour or £15 an hour, you're talking about tens of thousands of hours and probably £250,000 a year's worth of work. It's invaluable isn't it?"
Between 2004 and 2018, forty percent of closures of Church of England churches were in the most deprived ten per cent of parishes in England.
Meanwhile, a recent Church Buildings Council report found that churches in the most deprived parishes in the country are far more likely to struggle than those in less deprived areas and even more likely to close.
Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, Joint Presidents of the National Churches Trust added: "During lockdown, churches around the country continued to use their buildings for the benefit of society as people suffered the fallout of the pandemic. The value that church buildings provide in offering a space where all are welcomed and loved might be priceless, but looking after them has a very large cost. This report makes the argument for why it is appropriate for church-based community services to be funded by national government."