Many of us will have experience of how the pandemic and lockdown are having an impact on our faith, and that of those around us. Thanks to new research, however, we now also have more of a picture of what is happening across the country.

According to research launched by Tearfund, and conducted by Savanta ComRes, many in the UK are turning to prayer during the crisis. A third of UK adults (33 per cent) have prayed since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those surveyed, 30 per cent of 18 – 34 year olds pray regularly, compared to 25 per cent of over 55s. 

Of course, those who pray will be of all faiths and, interestingly, one or two will have no faith at all, but these statistics nonetheless challenge the assumption that religious faith is on its way out, irrelevant to the vast majority of people. 

The research also covered those who watch or listen to religious services (for example, via online streaming). This was 24 per cent overall, or 76 per cent of those who regularly went to church before the pandemic. The proportion accessing services remotely was higher among 18 – 34 year olds (34 per cent) compared to those aged 55 or over (19 per cent). And one in 20UK adults (5 per cent) who say they have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown have never gone to church before.

This matches what we at the Evangelical Alliance have heard from our members. Our members have shared encouraging stories of how churches are streaming online services in different parts of the country. We’ve also listened to church leaders express concern that not everyone can access such services, with older people particularly not being shored up digitally, as the research seems to indicate. But we’ve also heard about how these churches are being proactive in ensuring that no one is left out. You can read an article about resources from member organisation Faith in Later Life for sharing the good news with older people. 

The 1 in 20 who have joined a service for the first time should also be in our prayers. The pandemic and lockdown are sources of incredible stress for all, and many will be looking for new and unexpected sources of support. For others, online services will be an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity, without the inconvenience and perhaps embarrassment of attending a service in person. Whatever the reason people are tuning in, let’s pray that churches use this opportunity well to point not to ourselves but to Christ. 

Tearfund’s research also covered beliefs about prayer, and what people prayed for. Among those who pray, two thirds (66 per cent) say they agree that God hears their prayers and over half (56 per cent) say they agree that prayer changes the world. Half of those who pray (51 per cent) agree that they’ve witnessed answers to their own prayers and over two fifths (43 per cent) agree that their prayer changes the lives of people living in poverty in developing countries. Among the topics prayed for, more than half prayed for their family, but fewer (15 per cent) prayed for the needs of the wider world.

It is wonderful to see the widespread belief in the power of prayer. But a major task for the church in the lockdown and beyond, will be to challenge people to broaden the gaze of their prayers. At the moment, we’re all concerned about our loved ones, and the situation in our own country. But historically the church has always had a global vision, as we remember not just our nearest neighbours, but our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. 

To guide your prayers during the pandemic, please visit the Evangelical Alliance online prayer centre and Tearfund’s website for information about their response to the virus. Dr Ruth Valerio, global advocacy and influencing director at Tearfund, said, It is encouraging to see the number of people in the UK praying during such a challenging time. Our experience at Tearfund is that prayer and practical action go hand-in-hand and are both crucial ways of responding. With COVID-19 rates continuing to rise around the world, we are calling more people to pray and take action.”

Image by Jacquelynne Kosmicki 

These statistics nonetheless challenge the assumption that religious faith is on its way out, irrelevant to the vast majority of people.