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Will COVID kill the rural church?

Richard Battersby was recently asked to conduct some research about how the rural church was faring. He lets mission work across the rural communities west of York. His findings suggest that the Hybrid Church model is not just an urban phenomenon.

Here's his press release:

Recently there has been a focus on church closures, a drop in congregations and a drop in the financial feasibility of Rural Churches. In some quarters this may be true, but this picture is not consistent across Yorkshire as many Rural Churches are experiencing growth, despite lockdown and withdrawal from physical worship.

During the latter quarter of 2020, a study was commissioned by ‘Yorkshire Churches Rural Business Support’. This study was led by Reverend Richard Battersby who himself leads a mission across rural communities to the west of York.

This newly released report (instead of focusing on what the Church is not doing) has concentrated on the good that is emerging in these times. Whilst the world has and is going through a lot of pain there is good coming from this crisis. People’s lives have been changed as they find new ways to express their faith alongside their growing need to do this. Part of the study looks at the lives of people where their faith has changed and grown:

− The lonely widower who can now attend and contribute to worship each and every Sunday, not just when there is a service in their village. Furthermore, they can join with others at the end of each day to share experiences and prayer. Deepening in faith and finding friendship in isolation and loneliness.

  • The couple, who may live at the other end of the country, but with connections to a particular Church can be part of a worshipping community relevant to them.

  • The cancer victim undergoing treatment who can now attend worship without worrying about summoning up the emotional and physical strength to leave the house and risk infection.

  • The families who have struggled in a worship setting, due to concerns about how their children may disturb the service. They can now worship free of these worries.

  • The overstretched who just want to Sunday to be more relaxing, and yes worship with their community, but on their own terms, perhaps preparing the Sunday lunch signing hymn and worship songs or listening to a reflection.

  • A member of a family who may work overseas and who misses their church family and community who can now keep that connection on a regular basis.

  • Those who want to chat and talk about their faith experiences but are deterred by the 40 minute round trip on single track rural roads who can now join with like minded people across the area.

In these times many Churches are exploring and seeking innovative ways to engage with people and communities during these challenging times.

For some Rural Churches gone are the Sundays where …

  • an exhausted priest will dash into a village Church, once or twice a month, only to flyout again in order to lead another service in another village, leaving people unfulfilled in their worship lives.

  • only the faithful few brave the cold of winter to attend an equally cold Church on a Sunday morning.

  • unless willing to travel some distance, there has not been the opportunity to habitually worship with a growing and vibrant Church community, each and every Sunday.

  • in rural communities where people know each other’s business, a person may have been deterred from attending Church, in fear of the raised eyebrows and look of ‘why are they here … what’s happened!’ Now they can attend Church online anonymously.

  • 10 to 20 people will gather in two to three Churches across a parish benefice or circuit, once or twice a month. Nowadays perhaps one to two hundred people will, every week, gather both physically and online as one Church community covering a large geographical area.

Sad to say this picture is not consistent and those Churches who may have been struggling prior to lockdown are seeing contraction and will be at risk in the future. However, in worship, prayer, pastoral care and through the use of technology Churches are changing some dramatically, their death has been greatly exaggerated.


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