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Why non-Christians' perception of the church is changing

by Chantalle Edmunds

A new poll has found an improvement in non-Christians' perception of the UK church as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey, conducted by Savanta ComRes and commissioned in partnership by YourNeighbour and international Christian children's charity World Vision, found since the start of the coronavirus pandemic found 25 percent of non-Christians agreed with the statement that the UK Church is making a positive difference in the world, compared with 19% three years ago. 

The study, which surveyed 2,170 respondents, also found that 42% of UK adults agree that local Christian churches are making a positive difference in their community, with 24% disagreeing. 

Russell Rook, Chair of YourNeighbour, told Premier the findings are encouraging but show the church should do more to tell its own story:

"I think there's an element whereby we should be really encouraged that over the last year, churches and the work that they've been doing in their communities, whether it's providing food, supporting families, helping those in debt, getting people back into work, all of that work has been recognized by the local community, which is great. Some of that has been stuff that we've been doing for years. But the church has been a bit of an unsung hero, mainly because we obviously want to give the glory to God, which is a good thing. But sometimes if people don't see what we're doing, they don't see the good things that God's doing in the community. 

"So I think there's an element where it's really, really encouraging that increasingly the crisis has meant that people have recognized the difference that churches make in their neighbourhoods. But there's actually also a part of the story, which is a bit disappointing, because I think there's a whole lot more to do. There's a whole lot of people in our country, who you don't just yet recognize how much the church is doing for them, for their neighbours, for their families, for their local institutions, working with their local authority, providing for people who are kind of in vulnerable situations. And so I think we still got to get better at telling our own story, because that's the best way we've got into telling people God's story."

He added the results of the poll are something the church should aim to build on:

"I think this is a real moment for the church in the United Kingdom, it's not a moment for us to retreat. And so actually, we've got to batten down the hatches and things are difficult, and finances are tough. And, you know, COVID, has been challenging. Of course, all of those things are true. But it's a real time for the church to advance to say, look, we have a vital role to play. We've played that role faithfully for many centuries. We've played it really powerfully in the last year, and now we need to play really strategically in the future."

Work by the church during the pandemic has also received praise from across the political divide. 

Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove have both spoken out in support of the UK Church on the launch of the Give Hope campaign, organised by charity YourNeighbour and supported across the denominations, the campaign aims to profile and resource the work that local churches have done while serving their communities during the pandemic. 

Sir Keir commented: "I have been struck by how in this time of difficulty for our country, people have sought solace and hope in faith. It has been wonderful to see how churches have adapted to meet the needs of our communities, with countless examples of them stepping up. Now we have the vaccine, it's a very powerful thing to see churches transforming into vaccine centres, congregations volunteering and leaders offering the hope we need."

Conservative Cabinet Minister, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP said, "The Church has been there for all of us - it's been burying our dead, it's been comforting the bereaved, it's been feeding the poor and it's been praying for the nation. And now the Church is determined to play a critical, central and important role in building back better and enabling us to come out of this pandemic and to be a stronger and more united nation. I know that there are millions across this country, millions of people whose faith inspires them every day to do more for those around them. Give Hope is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements but also recommit ourselves collectively to doing more for our neighbours and our neighbourhood, for our communities and our country."

Mark Sheard, CEO of World Vision UK said in a statement: "As a Christian children's charity that works with thousands of Church leaders across the world we have seen time and again, from responding to the Ebola crisis to supporting children to thrive in over 90 countries, the important and life-changing role the Church plays. Oftentimes this work is done under the radar and those who serve rarely look for the plaudits, but we want to participate in 'Give Hope' to thank those who have given so sacrificially - particularly over the past 12 months - and to use our global experience to encourage and enable more churches to respond to the practical needs of their communities."

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