MOST churches questioned in a survey used digital channels during lockdown to keep in touch with their congregations and to reach out to new audiences. Zoom was the most popular platform.
Almost nine out of ten respondents to a small survey carried out by the church insurers Ecclesiastical last month said that they had used digital channels: Zoom was used by 78 per cent; Skype, 12 per cent; and eight per cent used other platforms, such as WhatsApp.
Nearly one third of those that used digital channels have reported an increase in attendance at virtual services, compared with usual attendance. Some 38 per cent of the 90 respondents also said that they would continue to use digital channels now that congregations were able to meet together physically again.
Of the 13 per cent that have not used digital media to stream services or to keep in touch, the main reasons given were limited access to equipment, a lack of expertise in using digital channels, and not enough people to manage the technology.
The Rector of Holy Trinity, Hartshill, in Stoke-on-Trent, the Revd Chris Rushton, has been running live streams on Facebook throughout the lockdown.
When the broadcast first started at the end of March, the live streams received about 400 views. Now Sunday-morning services receive more than 900 views, from viewers around the world.
Mr Rushton, a former journalist, set up in a community centre, next to the church, which had a good broadband connection. He and his wife, Heather, started recording mid-week prayers and posting them on the church’s Facebook page, as well as the Sunday morning live stream.
“We’ve had people watching from other parts of the UK, Portugal, Spain, and even Australia — so it’s like we’ve got a whole new congregation to cater to. This is definitely the future of our church.
“Despite the distance between us, there’s a real sense of community that these live streams have helped us to achieve. The ability for people to comment or ask questions has been a welcome feature, as it brings back some of that normality we have been searching for.”
He is now opening the church for services again, but maintaining online services, too, and is planning to get mobile broadband to be able to stream from inside church.
Ecclesiastical’s church-operations director, Michael Angell, said: “With locked doors preventing the church community from gathering physically, many have taken to new forms of communication to maintain that sense of togetherness — something many have needed during this difficult time.
“As doors have opened again, it is encouraging to see that churches are open to maintaining new ways to interact with their audiences — both new and old.”
Last month, the ten rural Badminton parishes in Gloucester diocese reported that attendance at online services had risen by 1300 per cent, after they switched from Zoom to YouTube (News, 3 July).