'A really helpful glimpse into the life of our churches during lockdown'
Mike Lowe and Carmel Murphy share insights from a research project exploring how our churches have responded to the current crisis
I think it’s fair to say that the last few months have been a bit of a rollercoaster! Both as individuals and church communities we’ve had to continually adapt to constantly changing circumstances and navigate lots of newness. There’s been a lot to think about and, week after week, it can take its toll. But, nestled in amongst the exhaustion and anxiety, there have been stories of support, innovation and hope that have helped to lift the spirits and remind us that God is with us.
So, back in June, the Communications Team from the Faith and Society Specialist Team commissioned a small scale research project to try to capture some of the wonderful ways that churches have been responding to the current crisis, to get some feedback on what’s helped and hindered them in lockdown and to hear how both the Regional and Specialist Teams can continue to offer support, going forward. The Communications Team has a small database of individuals who have previously agreed to be part of occasional reviews, so a short survey was put together and email out to them.
It had three main sections;
1. Local – exploring contact within the congregation and the local community
2. Regional – exploring contact with other churches and the Association
3. National – exploring contact with the Specialist Teams
398 individuals completed the survey, the majority of which were local Ministers or Church Secretaries/Treasurers over the age of 40.
Nearly 90 per cent of participants recorded that their church had connected with people digitally. Many had used online platforms such as Zoom or Facebook Live to hold services, as well as bible studies and social times. 70 per cent had held prayer meetings online.
Phone calls and emails were other methods used to communicate with the congregation, while practical support was one of the main ways people connected with the local community.
For many it was too soon to think about what their church, in the light of lockdown, might stop doing, although a number of people named specific activities that they thought their church would review before starting again. In contrast, when asked what your church might start doing after lockdown, the most popular answer by far was ‘doing things online’, with many talking of a ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ approach to services and meetings, meaning that, in the future, they think some will be ‘in person’ and some will be online.
The final question in this section asked if lockdown had given rise to any thoughts about what it means to ‘be church’ rather than ‘do church’. There were lots of different responses to this. Here are a few examples around the top three themes:
The use of technology had helped people to connect more in the week, deepening relationships and reminding them that church is the people and not the building.
An increase in participation both in services and the life of the church more generally had been observed in some places, reminding people that we are a priesthood of all believers.
Opportunity had arisen for some to connect with their local community during lockdown, reminding them that we are a missional people and that continuing to invest in these new relationships will be an important part of being church, going forward.
Each of the Regional Associations were represented in the survey and 75 per cent of participants had received regular email updates from their Association during lockdown.
Just over two thirds of the participants had only communicated with their own Association and of those who had connected with others, it was mainly to use online resources or attend an online event.
When asked how their Association could continue to support them going forward, ‘keep up the good work’ and ‘continue what you are doing’ were common responses. Many people were thankful for the support they had been given and wanted to continue to receive advice about how to navigate the government guidelines, in the months ahead.
The majority of participants had received information from the Specialist Teams via email updates and the Baptists Together website and found both ‘very helpful’ or ‘OK’.
61 per cent of participants found the information they were looking for in these communications ‘very easily’ or ‘with some searching’ and 70 per cent felt that, overall, the information they had received was ‘about right’.
When asked how the Specialist Teams could continue to support churches going forward, many asked for advice and information about how to navigate the pandemic and again, for the teams to ‘continue what they are doing’. The hard work of the National Team was acknowledged on numerous occasions and gratitude for their advice and support was expressed.
Click here to see a fuller report.
Many thanks to all those who completed the survey. It provides a really helpful glimpse into the life of our churches during lockdown, not only for our Regional Associations and Specialist Teams but hopefully for the wider Baptist family too. The Specialist Teams will be reflecting on the results in the coming weeks, distilling learning and looking for ways to continue to support, encourage and resource churches as we navigate the next phase of this unprecedented time together.
Mike Lowe is National Communications Manager for the Baptist Union
Carmel Murphy is a Community Organiser and Baptist Minister living in Manchester. She has a particular interest in community based ministry and, through her work with Urban Life, accompanies individuals and groups exploring mission in urban areas and marginalised neighbourhoods. She worked alongside the Faith and Society Team to conduct this research.
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