How have people been engaging digitally over the last three months?

22/06/2020

This long read blog aims to explore some of the national and local trends seen since lockdown began in March 2020. Churches and dioceses have produced a fantastic range of content to support regular churchgoers and those exploring faith at this time.

We have decided to make the research and insights available at this time as churches begin to open for individual private prayer and as several other organisations start to publish some initial findings.
Image of laptop screen with weekly service content on

Online weekly services

Nationally, the Church is producing a 35 – 45 minute weekly online service, which is shared on Facebook and YouTube. The total number of views since launching three months ago is 5.2 million (those watching for 10 seconds+ on Facebook or 30 seconds+ on YouTube). Contributors have included the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, HRH The Duke of Cambridge and Pope Francis. Social media posts relating to the weekly services have now been 21.5 million times.

There are several interesting trends that we are seeing:

  • According to surveys run after recent online services, up to one in five people watching go to church monthly or less, which shows we are reaching well beyond the core audience. Related to this, up to one third of people are not watching any other Christian service.
  • We are engaging a younger demographic. One third of people watching Archbishop Justin Welby’s Easter Day service on YouTube were under the age of 34, and 27% are aged 35-54 and nearly 25% of people watching the Mental Health Awareness Week service on YouTube were aged 13-34.

 AChurchNearYou.com

Locally, churches have done an amazing job listing more than 5,000 online services and events and an additional 2,000 services and events have been added since Holy Week and Easter 2020. Since January 2020 there have been more than 30 million page views on the website. The Resource Hub, available to the 17,000+ editors, includes a range of online giving resources which have been developed with colleagues in Finance.

A map of England showing all the live stream services

A range of hymns, songs and choral pieces have been made available thanks to a national partnership with St Martin-in-the-Fields and the RCSM. In just seven weeks there have been nearly 50,000 downloads through the AChurchNearYou.com Resource Hub. It has been wonderful to read the feedback from churches on this.

Daily Prayer During the Day and Night Prayer audio

Church House Publishing (CHP) lead on this project and, since launch, the services have been listened to 85,000 times. Website page views of the Daily Prayer have increased by 316%. In addition, there was a 14% increase in the Church’s smart speaker apps usage, with more than 220,000 questions now asked across Google Home and Alexa.

CHP’s app programme

In the first two months following lockdown there was a 400% increase in CHP app downloads compared to the same period in 2019. The Time to Pray app – which offers the services featured in the new Daily Prayer audio (see above) – was made entirely free to launch in mid-March and saw a 1000% increase in downloads as a result. During the period of Thy Kingdom Come this year we saw 40% more people using CHP apps for prayer and worship compared to 2019, with over 50,000 sessions on iOS devices alone.

Training churches through webinars and blogs

In just three months more than 3,000 lay and ordained leaders and regular churchgoers have now been through training on effective use of social media, streaming services or events online giving and using AchurchNearYou.com. Blog page views increased by 545% in March and April and 96%  of webinar participants said the content of the webinars met or exceeded expectations.

Coronavirus resources and materials

Prayers specifically for the Coronavirus situation have been widely used and shared and a booklet from CHP was distributed free to Church Times subscribers at Easter, since when over 25,000 copies have been ordered to help parishes reach those unable to access digital services and content. These coronavirus liturgy and prayer resources have also been viewed online almost 222,000 times.

Sharing the good news stories from across the Church

Gathered from dioceses and churches, the social media posts have been seen on social media 1.6 million times, with nearly 100,000 engagements (including link clicks). This is very encouraging. Explore the full range of stories here.

Working on major campaigns

Lent and Easter 2020 – the Lent 2020 resources were based on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, Saying Yes to Life, by Dr Ruth Valerio and the materials were seen millions of times on social media. The Lord’s Prayer Easter reflections, written by the Bishop of Oxford, also received lots of interest on social media, and we saw an average 41% daily email open rate, more than double the industry average.

Thy Kingdom Come – content seen 2.1m times on social media, 411,000 views of the Pentecost weekly online service, 40% more people used CHP’s apps for prayer and worship during this lockdown TKC compared to TKC 2019 and TKC for Daily Prayer booklet was CHP’s top-selling title in May.

Mental Health Awareness Week – including the revised resources developed by Rev Prof Chris Cook, the content was seen 2 million times and the BBC is using the same reflections over the next fortnight as part of Daily Service.

What will we focus on in the months ahead?

Continuing with training webinars and blogs and running one-off online digital roadshows to upskill churches in areas such as social media, streaming and online giving.

Online weekly services will continue but we will look to explore how they encourage people into a worshipping community when it is safe to do so. It is likely that services and events will need to be shared online for major religious and civic moments including remembrance, All Saints and All Souls, Advent and Christmas.

Providing music and other related resources to enable local churches to run high quality online services and events. There is clearly huge demand for this content, particularly from small and midsized churches.

Focus on high quality national print and online resources that can be adapted by dioceses and local churches, working across the Church:

  • #FaithAtHome – sharing and encouraging greater engagement with the range of video resources developed by Education.
Faith At Home Resilience Trailer

Our Faith At Home episodes for schools are available now! This week, young people from across the UK have been exploring resilience and how it relates to our relationship with God. Catch up on the full videos at cofe.io/FaithAtHomeVideos.

Posted by The Church of England on Thursday, 11 June 2020
  • EverydayFaith prayer resources over the summer – developing a new Time to Pray app with integrated audio and a refreshed interface based on CHP’s new colour booklet version (published this month). A campaign to encourage use of the resource will be linked to Everyday Faith and explore how faith can support people in their workplaces and lives at this time of huge change and flux, with BBC Radio 4 Daily Service planning to mirror the Church of England cycle of prayer concerns across of four-week period.
  • Advent and Christmas 2020 – work is underway on a range of Advent and Christmas online services with partners, reflections and lots of user generated content.
  • Preparing for Lent 2021 – there is no firm proposal as yet, but they will need announcing by September 2020 at the absolute latest. Although the latter half of Lent was inevitably overshadowed by COVID-19, the levels of engagement in this year’s #LiveLent were very high and we hope to build on the great work done in partnership with dioceses to engage churches, schools and individuals.

Conclusion

An extraordinary amount of work has been achieved by local churches with services, events and community outreach. When lockdown is fully lifted there will clearly be a challenge for local churches to sustain both in person and online worship at the same time. We will be working closely with our diocesan colleagues throughout this. The resources that we are planning for the months ahead aim to provide some support for worshipping communities across the country and all of us continue to be on a learning curve.

We have seen lots of people exploring faith through initiatives such as the online weekly services, mental health reflections and other resources and the aim is to encourage those who wish to attend a local church for regular worship when it is safe to do so. The materials planned for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, outlined above, are aimed at helping a range of audiences.

We will keep reviewing national digital plans and adjust the range of online provision available based on lockdown advice from the UK Government, decisions made by the House of Bishops and other groups alongside the insights and feedback we receive from dioceses, churches and individuals. One of the many good things about digital communications is the ability to gather feedback, both good and bad, very quickly.  

Our hope and prayer is that this work continues to enable churches, regular churchgoers and those exploring faith to know the love and comfort of Jesus Christ in their lives at this challenging time.

Church of England Communications

Keep up to date with all things digital and join our Labs Latest newsletter.
Subscribe here