Surging numbers of British people turn to Christianity amid pandemic, figures suggest

Surging numbers of British people turn to Christianity amid pandemic, figures suggest

More people are tuning in to online Christian services than attended church before the coronavirus lockdown, religious leaders have said.

Major Mark Sawyer, the leader of Norwich Citadel church, said more than 2,000 people have been tuning in to his online Sunday services, compared with around 300 who would attend pre-lockdown.

Mr Sawyer, who leads the church sessions with his wife Andrea Sawyer as part of the Salvation Army, said although some seasoned worshippers were “church-surfing” by tuning in to multiple online services, many of those joining the sessions have said they are new to Christianity.

Major Mark Sawyer, the Salvation Army church co-leader of Norwich Citadel (Mark Sawyer/PA)
Major Mark Sawyer, the Salvation Army church co-leader of Norwich Citadel (Mark Sawyer/PA)

He said: “Our online services are attracting thousands, it’s just incredible.

“I’m sure that there are more people tuning in to church services now than attending before the pandemic.

“Talking to other ministers, they’re seeing the same thing as well.

“I know from contacts that a good number don’t go to church or haven’t been for a long time, so definitely far more people are connecting through media in these days and tapping into church than did before.”

Mr Sawyer, 57, added: “I think any crisis brings around a heightened kind of awareness of the bigger things of life.

“When we lead a funeral service (pre-lockdown) we often get loads of people afterwards asking about life, asking about what we believe goes on after.

“And that happens usually. But because we’ve been surrounded by death in such a big way, in the news, in the media, and knowing the stories, and a lot of people know people who have been really poorly and have passed away.

“And so these questions which come up at funerals are accelerated in a bigger way because of the pandemic – people really want to talk about life, and faith, and spirituality.”

The Church of England has also been broadcasting services online while churches are closed, as well as through the Time To Pray app, a twice-daily podcast and a dial-up worship line called Daily Hope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recorded his Easter Sunday sermon in the kitchen of his flat (Caroline Welby/PA)
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recorded his Easter Sunday sermon in the kitchen of his flat (Caroline Welby/PA)

The first virtual service, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Lambeth Palace crypt chapel, was on Mothering Sunday and is estimated to have been seen or heard by around five million people via Facebook and BBC radio.

This figure includes one million streaming on Facebook, with around two million likely to have tuned in to the 39 BBC local radio station broadcasts and BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship combined.

The Facebook post had a further reach of two million and nearly 30% of those watching online were under the age of 34, the CofE said.

That compares with an average of 871,000 people attending services and acts of worship each week in 2018, the latest figures that are available.

Meanwhile, a survey by Christian charity Tearfund also projects a quarter of people living in the UK have tuned in to a religious service since restrictions began on March 23.

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