By Lianne Kolirin
The way churches have reacted in the pandemic has improved their perception among non-Christians, a poll has found.
One in four people (25 per cent) who do not identify as Christian believe churches are making a positive difference in the world, compared with 19 per cent three years ago.
The poll by Savanta ComRes, was commissioned by World Vision and YourNeighbour, a network of 1,100 churches from more than 40 denominations, acting together to provide frontline support in the pandemic.
For example, it has provided services that have helped overcome social issues — from staging online worship to delivering meals and shopping to people who are isolated or vulnerable.
The survey, based on 2,170 responses, found 42 per cent of UK adults believe local Christian churches are making a positive difference in their community.
Nearly one in four (24 per cent) say the positive impact is most noteworthy in the staging of events for the elderly and homeless services. Churches were also recognised 20 per cent for the work they do distributing food, clothes and toys to those in need.
According to its website, YourNeighbour — whose partners include the Church of England, Evangelical Alliance, Salvation Army, Baptists Together, Assemblies of God, Vineyard and the Methodist Church — five million meals have been provided to those in need by churches each month.
Nine in 10 churches surveyed by YourNeighbour have supported the vulnerable during the pandemic, while 71 per cent of churches have delivered new services.
The charity is behind the Give Hope campaign, which highlights the work local churches have been doing to serve their communities during the pandemic. Praise has come from both sides of the political spectrum.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “It has been wonderful to see how churches have adapted to meet the needs of our communities, with countless examples of them stepping up. Now we have the vaccine, it’s a very powerful thing to see churches transforming into vaccine centres, congregations volunteering and leaders offering the hope we need.”
Conservative minister Michael Gove said: “The church has been there for all of us — it’s been burying our dead, it’s been comforting the bereaved, it’s been feeding the poor and it’s been praying for the nation. And now the church is determined to play a critical, central and important role in building back better and enabling us to come out of this pandemic and to be a stronger and more united nation.”
According to the British Social Attitudes survey in 2019, the proportion of the British population identifying as Christian fell from 66 per cent in 1983 to 38 per cent. The proportion of the population identifying as Anglican dropped from 40 per cent to 12 per cent over the same timeframe.
According to the UK Census, between 2001 and 2011 the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million — about 10,000 a week.
Meanwhile data published by the Brierley Consultancy for the period 1980-2015 showed that church attendance fell from 11.8 per cent of the population in 1980 to five per cent in 2015.
A change in attitudes towards churches has, therefore, been welcomed by Christian leaders.
Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, praised churches for their hard work during the pandemic, especially in their efforts to encourage their communities to take up the vaccine.
He told the Religion Media Centre: “The development of a number of Covid vaccines is miraculous, an answer to our prayers. Communities encouraging one another are key in helping everyone understand why being vaccinated is important for everyone when their opportunity comes. Faith communities and faith leaders have a specific role to play in this. I am delighted to be able to play a small part offering national and local encouragement.”
Pastor Agu Irukwu, senior pastor of Jesus House in London, who is supporting the YourNeighbour initiative said: “Tens of thousands of local churches across the UK have been at the frontline of the community response to the Covid pandemic, and it is encouraging to see that the impact of that work is improving public perceptions of the church.
“But there is still a lot of work to be done to reveal fully the pivotal role the church continues to play in modern society.”