Surging numbers of Britons turn to Christianity amid pandemic, figures suggest

More people are tuning in to online Christian services than attended church before the coronavirus lockdown, religious leaders have said.

Major Mark Sawyer, the leader of Norwich Citadel church, said more than 2,000 people have been tuning in to his online Sunday services, compared with around 300 who would attend pre-lockdown.

Mr Sawyer, who leads the church sessions with his wife Andrea Sawyer as part of the Salvation Army, said although some seasoned worshippers were "church-surfing" by tuning in to multiple online services, many of those joining the sessions have said they are new to Christianity.

He said: "Our online services are attracting thousands, it's just incredible.

"I'm sure that there are more people tuning in to church services now than attending before the pandemic.

"Talking to other ministers, they're seeing the same thing as well.

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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 15: Vatican Pontifical Swiss Guards, wearing PPE to protect themselves from COVID19, patrol the Petriano Vatican Entrance, on May 15, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. Churches in Italy are set to reopen for the faithful to attend public Mass on May 18, in limited numbers and under strict guidelines, as part of Italy’s ‘Phase 2’ of easing the coronavirus lockdown. (Photo by Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 15: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY – STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL OR MERCHANDISING USAGE) Sanitation workers use special equipment to clean and disinfect the St. Peter's statue inside the Vatican Basilica as a preventive measure against the spread of Coronaviruson May 15, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Vatican are looking at Roman Basilicas, also known as the Papal Basilicas, to see what needs to be done in order to open their doors to the faithful so they can assist at the sacred liturgy once more. As part of Phase 2, Italian churches will be allowed to open their doors to the faithful once again for the celebration of Holy Mass beginning on May 18, 2020. (Photo by Vatican Media / Vatican Pool via Getty Images)
DAKAR, SENEGAL - MAY 15: People attend Friday prayer at the Massalikul Jinaan Mosque for Friday prayer in Dakar as mosques were re-opened for congregational prayers in Senegal after a two months break as a precaution taken against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on May 15, 2020. Despite the government's allowance, most of the religious authorities decided to keep the mosques closed and the Friday prayers not to be held by the congregation as part of the fight against Covid-19 in the country while mosques of Mouride Brotherhood were opened for Friday Prayer. (Photo by Alaattin Dogru/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
DAKAR, SENEGAL - MAY 15: People gather for Friday prayer at the Massalikul Jinaan Mosque for Friday prayer in Dakar as mosques were re-opened for congregational prayers in Senegal after a two months break as a precaution taken against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on May 15, 2020. Despite the government's allowance, most of the religious authorities decided to keep the mosques closed and the Friday prayers not to be held by the congregation as part of the fight against Covid-19 in the country while mosques of Mouride Brotherhood were opened for Friday Prayer. (Photo by Alaattin Dogru/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: People attend a food distribution at St. Bartholomew's Roman Catholic Church at the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens on May 15, 2020 in New York City. Thousands of people waited for hours to get food donated in one of the most hit zones by COVID-19 pandemic in the country. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
RASHT, IRAN - MAY 15, 2020: A woman prays with a Qur'an on her head on the night of laylat al-Qadr during Ramadan amid Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Every year, Muslims pray on the night of the 21st day of Ramadan known as Lelat al-Qadr by reciting the Qur'an and keeping the Qur'an on their heads. This year despite the coronavirus, people performed religious services in mosques and on the streets.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Babak Jeddi / Echoes WIre/ Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Babak Jeddi / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 15: Archbishop of Madrid, Carlos Osoro Sierra hold mass via a live-stream on the occasion of the feast day for San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid, at the San Isidro Collegiate Church as gatherings are still banned to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on May 15, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. Some parts of Spain have entered the so-called "Phase One" transition from its coronavirus lockdown, allowing many shops to reopen as well as restaurants who serve customers outdoors. Locations that were harder hit by coronavirus (Covid-19), such as Madrid and Barcelona, remain in a stricter "Phase 0" quarantine. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
A Muslim woman wearing protective face mask waiting for prayers Ramadan amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak after the Thai government eased isolation measures, in Bangkok, Thailand, 15 May, 2020. (Photo by Anusak Laowilas/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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A members of the Israeli security forces walks among Palestinian worshippers as they perform the Friday prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, outside the closed al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis on May 15, 2020. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 15, 2020: Relatives in face masks pray after the funeral of a deceased COVID-19 patient in Butovskoye Cemetery, during the pandemic of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). As of 15 May 2020, the official Russian death toll is at 2,400, with 1,300 reported deaths in Moscow. Sergei Bobylev/TASS (Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Muslim devotees offer Friday prayers at a mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan after the government eased a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Dhaka on May 15, 2020. (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN / AFP) (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 15: Sanitation workers use special equipment to clean and disinfect the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica as a preventive measure against the spread of Coronavirus on May 15, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Vatican are looking at Roman Basilicas, also known as the Papal Basilicas, to see what needs to be done in order to open their doors to the faithful so they can assist at the sacred liturgy once more. As part of Phase 2, Italian churches will be allowed to open their doors to the faithful once again for the celebration of Holy Mass beginning on May 18, 2020. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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A health personnel takes the temperature of a devotee wearing a face mask as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, before attending a Friday prayer in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Pattani Central Mosque in Pattani on May 15, 2020. (Photo by Tuwaedaniya MERINGING / AFP) (Photo by TUWAEDANIYA MERINGING/AFP via Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA MAY 15, 2020: A Muslim worshiper waits for a Friday prayer call in a local mosque for the first Friday prayers allowed in mosques during Ramadhan due to the Covid-19 lockdown measures on May 15, 2020 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysian Government begin to allow mosques within the green zones to hold congregational and Friday prayers by adhering to a strict standard of procedure (SOP), which includes not more than 30 worshippers at one time. (Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images)
KLANG, SELANGOR, MALAYSIA - 2020/05/14: Madrasah Darul Solihin Al-Qadiri residents attend a mass prayer while keeping social distance outside Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia will partly ease the ban on mass prayers in most mosques starting 15 May, allowing a maximum of 30 people to gather for prayers ahead of Eid al-Fitr amid a drop in coronavirus cases. (Photo by Zulfadhli Zaki/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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Muslim girl wearing protective face mask waits for free food packages to break their fasting during the holy month of Ramadan in Jakarta, on May 14, 2020. More than 350 free food packages distributed by benefactors per days during a holy month of Ramadan to poor people affected by coronavirus Covid-19. (Photo by Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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"I know from contacts that a good number don't go to church or haven't been for a long time, so definitely far more people are connecting through media in these days and tapping into church than did before."

Mr Sawyer, 57, added: "I think any crisis brings around a heightened kind of awareness of the bigger things of life.

"When we lead a funeral service (pre-lockdown) we often get loads of people afterwards asking about life, asking about what we believe goes on after.

"And that happens usually. But because we've been surrounded by death in such a big way, in the news, in the media, and knowing the stories, and a lot of people know people who have been really poorly and have passed away.

"And so these questions which come up at funerals are accelerated in a bigger way because of the pandemic – people really want to talk about life, and faith, and spirituality."

The Church of England has also been broadcasting services online while churches are closed, as well as through the Time To Pray app, a twice-daily podcast and a dial-up worship line called Daily Hope.

The first virtual service, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Lambeth Palace crypt chapel, was on Mothering Sunday and is estimated to have been seen or heard by around five million people via Facebook and BBC radio.

This figure includes one million streaming on Facebook, with around two million likely to have tuned in to the 39 BBC local radio station broadcasts and BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship combined.

The Facebook post had a further reach of two million and nearly 30% of those watching online were under the age of 34, the CofE said.

That compares with an average of 871,000 people attending services and acts of worship each week in 2018, the latest figures that are available.

Meanwhile, a survey by Christian charity Tearfund also projects a quarter of people living in the UK have tuned in to a religious service since restrictions began on March 23.

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