COVID concerns keep congregations away

16 December 2020

One in three churchgoers will not attend church this Christmas due to fears about contracting coronavirus.

  • A third of churchgoers won’t attend church this Christmas due to coronavirus concerns
  • 33% say they will avoid church due to fears of contracting COVID-19 at church
  • Current government restrictions limit traditional church activities this year – with many moving online

The survey by Ecclesiastical Insurance1 asked 1,367 churchgoers whether they planned to go to church this Christmas.

While almost two-thirds (61%) said it was important for them to celebrate Christmas events at church, many churchgoers have admitted they will not attend church this festive season.

43% said they were likely to attend a carol service, while even fewer (32%) are likely to attend midnight mass. Just over a quarter (27%) said they would likely attend a Nativity service.

The survey found concern about coronavirus was the main reason given for not attending church this year (38%), followed by restrictions in the local area (26%) and churches not hosting events (22%).

Impact on churches

The news that churchgoers plan to stay away from the pews this Christmas will be a significant disappointment to churches, and comes just two weeks after Archbishop Justin Welby urged people to return to church.

In a separate survey of churches by Ecclesiastical[ii], the majority of respondents (64%) believed the Government should allow all places of worship to open to the public this Christmas, with a third (35%) citing the effect on the mental health of individuals and the wider community as the main impacts of churches being closed.

The impact of coronavirus has forced many churches to reconsider their plans this Christmas.

Ecclesiastical found that only 59% of churches will host a carol service this year compared to almost all churches (96%) in previous years, while only 38% will host a Nativity and 48% will host Midnight Mass.

Online for Christmas

For many churches, the move to online services during the first nationwide lockdown proved to be a lifeline for their congregations and this Christmas is no different. The Bible Society survey found that 78% churches planned to live stream or share events this festive season, with 71% of respondents saying they will host an online carol service and 39% will livestream a Nativity service.

But churches aren’t just turning to online options to bring the Christmas experience to their communities this year. Some of the ingenious approaches to holding events include hosting drive-in carol concerts and taking a Nativity to the streets on the back of an articulated lorry to spread festive cheer to the community.

Michael Angell, church operations director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “It is clear from the findings of these surveys that the shadow of COVID-19 is still with us this festive period, and it can’t be ignored as a hurdle for churches to consider.

“Christmas is still hugely important to people and as long as churches are following the guidance provided by the Government and Church of England there is no reason we can’t have an enjoyable time at church events – whether they are held in the traditional manner or not.”

1 Conducted by YouGov on behalf of Ecclesiastical 4 to 8 December 2020. Total sample size was 6,475 adults, of whom 1,367 were Christian churchgoers. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+)

2 Conducted by Bible Society on behalf of Ecclesiastical 27 November – 8 December 2020