New research has pinpointed the “remarkable adaptations” church leaders in Scotland have made during the coronavirus pandemic to reach their communities.
A study found that 96 per cent of 369 congregational leaders spanning 27 different denominations continued with ministry and mission work.
The lockdown and subsequent Covid-19 restrictions to the opening of buildings resulted in a dramatic rise in online worship and other content, with 92 per cent of churches offering some form of weekly material.
The report entitled “Adapt and be Flexible– the Mission Doesn’t Stop” - The Scottish Church and the COVID-19 Pandemic", concludes that leaders have been faithful to their calling during a time of “unprecedented disruption and suffering.”
The 44-page study is the product of a research partnership between Action of Churches Together in Scotland, Brendan Research and the Scottish Church Leaders’ Forum.
A total of 184 Church of Scotland ministers took part in the study, accounting for 50 per cent of the responses which came from all 32 local authority areas.
Rev Mark Slaney, convener of the Scottish Church Leaders Forum, said: “The necessary shift to online church life has drawn us into a much wider field for mission, ministry and worship and we must learn to live a new blend and balance of engagement which could release us into new partnerships and places.”
The report’s findings include:
- Legal restrictions led to a 43 per cent downturn in the number of Church projects serving local communities, but 51 per cent of respondents said their congregations were helping more people than before the pandemic.
- Researchers calculated that Scottish churches offer up to 12,000 projects and initiatives for the benefit of their neighbours.
- Despite the difficulties, 26 per cent of congregations increased their missional activity during the pandemic, often in partnership with other churches, the state, or civic organisations.
- Only 16 per cent of church leaders disapproved of legal restrictions to curb the virus, with the overwhelming majority approving of the Scottish Government’s regulations.
- The vast majority of Church leaders (88 per cent) felt supported during the pandemic but a small minority were critical of their denominations for a perceived lack of support.
- The faith of Church leaders has remained strong during the pandemic with a significant proportion (40 per cent) saying that their faith had increased.
The report states: “The virus – and the lockdowns and restrictions that have accompanied it – have affected every part of society and caused extraordinary disruption and damage to the lives of Scots.
“The churches of Scotland have responded to the suffering and need of their communities with compassion, creativity and new missional partnerships.
“With buildings closed and normal patterns of ministry and mission disrupted, churches have innovated new practices of online worship, community service, evangelism and pastoral care.”
Rev Dr Liam Fraser, one of the report’s authors, told Premier the findings show just how valuable the Church is in society.
“This helps to dispel some of these false narratives that the Church has nothing to offer, that were done,” he said.
“We found very clearly and all the respondents are of this opinion, that God was working through the churches to bless society, and that we still have something to offer.”
However, a worrying part of the report was a downturn in support for youth and families.
Rec Slaney said: “I am concerned that only ‘12 out of 100’ churches were able to keep services for parents and children open in the initial lockdown and the challenges of reconnection cannot be ignored.
“I trust that the research will provide more than a window on our lockdown experiences but also inspire us to move forward, rather than going back to how things were, and discover a broader, deeper contemporary offering of Christian witness, work and worship together.”
Meanwhile, the report found that 63 per cent of respondents said that they were finding ministry more stressful both during and after lockdown with around one in four finding it more difficult to cope.
The primary causes given were feeling guilty that they are not doing enough, balancing work and life, learning new skills for online ministry and being unsure how to respond to the pandemic.
The report has made five recommendations to the Scottish Church.
- Online worship is here to stay, and must be adequately resourced
- Online worship must be adequately reflected upon
- The Scottish Church should not rush back to pre-lockdown ministry and mission
- Cross-denominational partnership in mission should be better understood and extended
- Further research into the social capital generated by the churches should be undertaken