A new report shows that Easter Day on-site churchgoing in the Diocese of Lichfield recovered to 74% of pre-pandemic levels. When you add online, or ‘Church At Home’, worship, the figure was the same (100%) as 2019 in the diocese.
Churches in four dioceses (Lichfield, Canterbury, Oxford and Rochester) were invited to register their Easter Day attendance figures online immediately after Easter to give an early indication of attendance patterns and trends compared with 2019. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many churches found themselves closed for long periods of time - and when they were able to reopen, they needed to observe Covid-19 guidelines up until February 2022.
The world of church attendance changed considerably over this period, with churches finding new and creative ways to facilitate 'Church at Home'. Although some churches used printed materials, emails and phones, most offered some form of online service. Many of these began with clergy simply using mobile phones and laptops in their vicarages and live-streaming worship and prayers to Facebook. By Easter 2022, however, the dominant format was livestreaming of onsite services via YouTube.
Simon Foster, Chaplaincy and Mission Team Leader for Lichfield Diocese, said: "Many churches responded to the request to send their Easter Day figures early. That’s been extraordinarily helpful in sketching a picture of post-pandemic church life and many people will find that picture encouraging. Not only are people returning to church, but online engagement has become a part of our church life in new ways.”
Across the four dioceses, (and with a 50% response rate from churches) the main findings were:
• Average onsite attendance for Easter Day was 75% of 2019
• The usual form of ‘Church at Home’ (via live streaming or pre-recorded services) is now online through YouTube
• The fall in onsite attendance in churches also offering ‘Church at Home’ was the same as other churches. However, those who didn’t offer online worship had 79% of their 2019 attendance compared to 107% for those who did both - people don’t use it as a substitute, rather an addition to traditional worship
• The number of churches offering Church at Home has been decreasing - but even at Easter 2022 nearly 60% of Anglicans had an online option available to them from their own church
• If online and in-person Church attendance figures are combined, total Easter Day attendance was about the same as at Easter 2019
• Smaller churches appear to have recovered their onsite attendance better than larger churches
• The fall in onsite attendance between 2019-2022 in churches also offering ‘Church at Home’ was the same as other churches - which seems to imply that people are treating online attendance as an additional option, rather than as an alternative to going to a church building
• Although online attendance is significantly down on from the Covid-19 lockdown peak, some well-known churches and cathedrals with a national or regional reach have maintained large online congregations
• The experience of individual churches varies hugely – onsite attendance in many churches was much lower than in 2019 and much higher in others.
It is also worth noting that Covid-19 levels were still quite high in England during Easter 2022 and many people will have avoided church because of this.
The four-diocese report can be accessed online on the CPAS website.
Pictured: An Easter sunrise service in South Staffordshire - picture credit the Revd Rich Clarkson.