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Changing the way we do church

by Michael Ford last modified 19 Mar, 2021 07:14 PM

Research is showing that our churches’ response to the pandemic has triggered a major change in the way Christians worship and reach out to their neighbours.

At least 20,000 online services and other web-based events are now listed on the Church of England’s ‘church-finder’ website AChurchNearYou. A year ago there were none.

Here in our Diocese, many parishes have seen a rise in the number of those attending services online compared to those held in their churches.

And while many of our churches are planning to hold Easter services in their buildings, the restricted numbers allowed and general caution from regular churchgoers means that online worship, including live streaming, will still be offered.

The Church of England’s national online services alone have attracted more than 3.7 million views since the first restrictions on gatherings for public worship to limit the spread of Covid-19 were introduced almost a year ago, and these figures are seen as just the tip of the iceberg.

A special hymn download service, designed for local churches to use as part of online worship, has seen more than a million downloads and as our churches look ahead to an expected easing of restrictions and more public gatherings, many are assessing how to incorporate the lessons of the last year into their regular patterns of worship and outreach after the pandemic.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said:

“The last year has been a time of loss, separation and pain for everyone. Not always being able to meet together for prayer and worship has made that even more difficult and I long for the day when we can gather together before God’s face.

“Yet amid all of this, God has been with us and has done something new which we could not have imagined a year ago. We have sung the Lord’s song in a virtual foreign land. As we look and plan ahead it’s not a question of either online worship or meeting in-person, but of how we will be shaped by the experience and commitments of the last year, to try new things, to value the things we perhaps took for granted before, and to reach out to more people with the invitation to participate in the good news of Jesus Christ.”

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell said:

“I think there has been a digital coming of age.

“Of course we long to meet in person, but online services can be very beautiful. People of different ages, from different parts of the country or even the world, families sitting together, people watching whilst having a cup of coffee are all coming together to worship online in ways that we just couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

“Many churches report that they have more people participating in their online services than used to meet in person.

“Of course, I hope these new online worshippers will join us in person one day. But even if they don’t, we must carry on nurturing these online communities and seeing it as a way of reaching out to new people and building new communities of faith.”

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