Switch to online church hasn't persuaded people to abandon in-person services

(Photo: Unsplash/Thays Orrico)

Most Catholics in the UK turned to online church during Covid-19, but very few want to make the switch permanent, a study has found. 

The vast majority (93%) of the 2,500 respondents had attended an online church service during lockdown, although researchers said this high figure was likely down to the online survey being circulated directly by clergy and diocesan networks. 

Despite the large proportion attending church online, just 4% thought they would worship mainly or entirely digitally in the future. 

While a majority (61%) agreed that closing church buildings during lockdown was the right decision, a larger proportion (80%) said that buildings were central to church witness in communities. 

Even more Catholics (84%) disagreed with the suggestion that church buildings are an unnecessary burden and expense. 

When it came to the spiritual impact of Covid-19, half said it had helped them feel closer to God and a similar proportion (54%) said the pandemic had made them more prayerful. 

The survey uncovered high levels of dissatisfaction with the Government's handling of the crisis, with only a fifth (22%) feeling that it had led the nation well during the lockdown. 

By contrast, over half (53%) said that the Catholic Church at a national level had responded well to the pandemic, while most (82%) were happy with the NHS's response.

The survey was conducted by Professor Francis Davis, of the University of Birmingham and Oxford, Professor Andrew Village, of York St John University, and Professor Leslie Francis, from the University of Warwick, in collaboration with Catholic Voices. 

Professor Francis Davis, University of Birmingham and Oxford, said: "We wanted to find out how Catholics had been coping and what impact the crisis has had on people's faith and their attitudes towards the Church.

"I am convinced that the report and its findings will be a vital resource in the discussions about the future of the Church in England and Wales."

Brenden Thompson, CEO Catholic Voices, said: "I am pleasantly surprised by many of the findings of this survey. Catholics miss their parishes and church buildings and seem eager to return, not just content with 'virtual Church'.

"Many it seems, by and large, have backed the bishops, been grateful for the efforts of clergy to livestream, and many have even felt at times closer to God and been more prayerful than usual.

"That said, the challenges ahead are real, so if we want to capitalise on this goodwill, we need to start thinking seriously about the conversations that need to happen as more and more begin returning to parishes."