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MK photo/Alamy
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MK photo/Alamy
World News

Digital church is here to stay, according to new study

by Heather Preston

A new report suggests that despite their challenges, online worship services are here for the long term as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Research from Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Chester has found that Covid-19 has accelerated a trend towards a more digital religious experience.

The study, British Ritual Innovation under Covid 19, surveyed hundreds of members of the public and clergy on their perceptions of religious life during the pandemic.

Its findings reveal that online worship and the celebration of life events such as marriage and funerals were exceptionally difficult for religious communities under coronavirus restrictions.

Lead researcher Joshua Edelman tells Premier this put a real strain on congregations and clergy.

"For a lot of people there is a real sense of loss, and the central thing seems to be a loss of community, of worship being something we do together."

Although worshippers found digital services more challenging during the pandemic, the study suggests that online attendances were higher and that a wider range of people had access to online meetings, including those who could not or did not want to attend a physical church.

Edelman suggests that churches need embrace this new hybrid of both digital and physical church settings moving forward.

"I think these new members, this new expanded community that is there online, should be seen as a source of strength.

"The key would be to find a way to make that community serve and be part of the in person church community and to integrate them into one community."

Edelman acknowledged that the quality of engagement in online contexts cannot match that of a physical service but argues that digital technology can be used to complement the in person church experience.

"Some churches have short daily worship services that you could never do in person but you can do efficiently online and then they come to the physical church on Sunday.

"Also, to open up to the possibility of connecting with broader, global communities. These should be seen as enhancements, not as means of undermining physical church communities.

"The principles are the same: of community, of service, worship and fellowship. But the techniques to do that may need to be re-learnt.

"I would encourage churches to do that so they can thrive."


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