Millions have tuned into Church of England's online services during pandemic

(Photo: Facebook/Church of England)

The Church of England's national online services have been viewed 3.7 million times since restrictions on in-person church services were first imposed a year ago. 

Across its social media channels, clips and content from the services have been viewed some 40 million times. 

There has also been impressive engagement with its prayer and discipleship apps, which have been accessed eight million times during the pandemic, up 50 per cent on the previous year. 

Churches across the nation were forced to move their services online during the pandemic. For many of them, it was the first time they had broadcast their services live via the internet. 

For the Church of England, the pandemic prompted the launch of its first ever national online service on its Facebook page and YouTube channel, with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby streaming the Easter service live from his kitchen last April.

There have now been 54 national online services led by different clergy each week. Data suggests the online services are attracting newcomers to the faith, with a sample survey finding that a fifth (19.7%) were engaging with the Church of England online for the first time.

In addition to online services, the Church of England launched the free DailyHOPE phoneline for those without internet access. The line has received over 400,000 calls and played five million minutes of content since it was launched last April.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell said the last year had been "a digital coming of age" for the Church.

"Of course we long to meet in person, but online services can be very beautiful," he said.

"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."

Archbishop 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."