Christians in rural communities have been able to benefit from online services during the pandemic.
A new study by the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter and the Arthur Rank Centre has revealed that 50% of those surveyed have been live-streaming services or using Zoom to worship.
One respondent said: “I have loved Zoom church. Seeing people’s faces; the equality where we’re all reduced to a square on a screen. The power of Zoom to bring together parishioners from a [large] parish benefice; the simplicity of being able to worship from home and the opportunity for different types of worship.”
However, some participants in the survey felt that churches had not accommodated older, less tech-savvy members of the congregation or those without internet access.
National Rural Officer for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, Rev Elizabeth Clark told Premier that churches have been helping those who struggle with technology and believes online services will become something permanent.
“There are ways that church communities are helping with that: we've got younger people in the church community. They can, over the phone, teach you how to get online... I think there's potential there, certainly for small, very dispersed congregations to perhaps come together in different ways once the church is open.
“I know there is one rural church that used to have a weekly prayer meeting. They put it in a drafty church hall and [used to] get three [people attending]. Now they get 15 [people] via Zoom, and everybody's much more comfortable. Even if they could meet face to face, they are still going to do this as their prayer meeting online.”
Just under half of respondents - 45 per cent - said they had prayed more during the pandemic, while 35 per cent said they felt closer to their faith.
Although technology has facilitated many new people joining, Rev Clark still wants to encourage people to pray for inclusivity.
“I think we need to give thanks so many people have been able to worship in this way," she said. "And be careful not to leave anybody behind.”