Pandemic drove Norfolk church community online
Newly-released figures show that across the height of the pandemic lockdowns in 2020, churches across the Diocese of Norwich saw their in-person congregations halve but they retained 94% of their worshippers with the help of online and church-at-home services. Keith Morris reports.
The figures come from the Church of England's Statistics for Mission 2020 report, which was published in December 2021. They reveal that those of the 640 churches in the Diocese of Norwich which reported (51%), said they had retained 94% of their worshipping community – 20,000 people in 2020 compared to 21,200 in 2019.
The Worshipping Community was defined as those people attending the church regularly, including in-person services, fresh expressions of Church and “Church at Home” services – on livestream, telephone, or post. At the height of lockdown, churches in the Diocese of Norwich were delivering more than 240 online services every week to their congregations.
In-person attendances however, unsurprisingly, halved. The adult average weekly attendance in the Diocese dropped from 15,000 in 2019 to 7,100 in 2020 (48%).
Advent and Christmas in-person attendances were even lower – due to the national lockdown in place at the time. Advent attendances were just 12,500 in 2020, 24% of the 2019 figure of 52,500. Christmas attendances in-person were 9,300, a mere 17% of the 53,400 in 20129.
In response, the Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich, said: I was in awe of my clergy colleagues who stepped-up during the pandemic to master new skills to share Christ’s message of hope online with their local communities and continue to do so, alongside providing Sunday and weekly services onsite. Such provision has enabled us to reach out further to those who perhaps through ill health, age or infirmity have had to “self-isolate” for years.
“So far from being despondent about the figures for physical attendance I remain hopeful that the incredible service of our church communities continues to be salt and light.
“That’s not to say there aren’t challenges: the constant adaption to changing regulations and ensuring the vulnerable are kept safe, over such a long period of time, has taken it’s toll. Many are weary. But we have a sure and certain hope in our God and that will carry us, and help us to carry others through,” said Bishop Graham.
Rev Matthew Price, vicar at St Mary Magdalene Church in Gorleston, speaking to the EDP, said: "Our experience in my parish was we had very strong online attendance during the period churches were closed in 2020. Even people in their 80s and 90s learnt how to use Zoom and online has opened our church services to a wider group of people than when we were perhaps meeting physically.”
Matthew said that since reopening the church building in the second half of 2020 they have adopted a "hybrid model", which sees people join both physically and online.
"The hybrid is here to say, what has been revealed is that there are some people, who are housebound or whatever, who want to engage with church but can't get out."
Reporting on the national figures, a spokesperson for the Church of England said: “The 2020 Statistics for Mission figures are very much in line with expectations and really underline the scale of the challenge churches faced in the first year of the pandemic.
“The main figures represent a snapshot in time in October last year, as the second wave of Covid-19 gathered momentum, while many churches in England were still closed for public worship, and all were under a legal requirement to limit numbers.
“The Advent and Christmas figures show this even more starkly - given the restrictions we all remember being introduced just a few days before Christmas last year. So they bear tribute to the resilience of local churches in the face of real challenges to which they responded in remarkable ways.
“We know that eight in 10 parishes offered ‘Church at Home’ online, via email, post and telephone during the first lockdown, helping sustain parish life when it was so dearly needed and also bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to some people for the first time.”
Click here to download the Statistics for Mission 2020 report.
Article extracts from EDP24