VIEWING figures for the Church of England’s national online services show that the services continue to receive about 150,000 views per week. They accrued more than eight million views in 2022.
The Church of England is marking the three-year anniversary of its online services this week, introduced in March 2020, when gathering for public worship was restricted as part of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. One year later, it was able to report that clips and content from the services had been seen 40 million times on social-media channels.
The current figures are acknowledged to be a conservative estimate. “Our analysis in May 2022 showed that 20 per cent of viewers watch with at least one other person; so this would add at least another 30,000 views to the above,” a Church House spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
“This is without including listeners to the Daily Hope phone line, and also instances where the service is put out on hospital radio or in prisons or old people’s homes, which we don’t currently track but which we hear anecdotally is happening. Our New Year’s Day 2023 service gained 800,000 views.”
Production continues each week; services are broadcast on social-media channels every Sunday via YouTube and Instagram. They include all C of E traditions, and are from estates churches, military chaplaincies, rural parishes, multiple church benefices, big county town churches, cathedrals, and dioceses.
They are led by clergy from all traditions, in a format predominantly based on the Service of the Word, but which has also included BCP services, choral matins, sung eucharist, a plough service, a lambing service, and a service of remembrance from an RAF base chapel.
The numbers of churches producing what came to be described as “church-at-home” services — pre-recording or live-streaming their own offering — dropped from 71 per cent producing at least one type of service in 2020 to 58 per cent in 2021. Collecting reliable viewing figures for these services is acknowledged to be problematic, given the difficulty of knowing how many people are viewing on one device, but online service provision continues in many churches.
The Enabling Church adviser in Lichfield diocese, the Revd Zoe Heming, who is the Vicar of St Andrew’s, Church Aston, observed on Tuesday how much had changed in the three years since services went online.
Her church began to investigate the possibilities in March 2020. “We heard about this thing called Zoom, and thought, ‘Nobody’s going to manage that,’” she said. “We knew we didn’t have the capacity for pre-recording, and just dabbled really at the beginning, trying a really simple format. But we had the advantage of a lot of people really committed to helping and supporting those who didn’t have a clue how to get online.
“It has made such an enormous difference, to the point at which, when we were able to go back into our buildings, I wasn’t willing to take the main Sunday service unless we had everyone with us. So we still live-stream absolutely everything, and I’m really passionate about that.
“Not to continue would be like pulling up the drawbridge. All those people who had been isolated and excluded for so many years. . . Suddenly, everyone experiences what they’re experiencing, and the world changes to fit.
“For the world then to withdraw that provision seemed unacceptable. I’m still on a bit of a mission with that, encouraging people to use their capacity. Our capacity is not high here: we‘ve still got no running water in my church, but we’ve got good Wi-Fi now.”
At least 30 people attend the hybrid service on Zoom each Sunday, contributing to the readings and intercessions. That had enabled more voices to be heard, Ms Heming said, “different kinds of voices, that would have found it difficult to go through so many barriers to get into the church building. So I really enjoy the creativity. We are still learning all the time with the live streaming.”
The church is sometimes able to extend the online offering for special events, such as for Black History Month, enabling “interesting people from all over the country to join in. It’s all hybrid. It won’t set the world on fire, but we’ve kept people that way.”
Her particular mission in her function as disability adviser is spreading awareness of the value of online provision for disabled people, and keeping that under review. “As far as I’m aware, the Church of England is committed to going forward with the national online services. It feels like that wasn’t a difficult door to push,” she said.