What if you could see the promise that God can use all things for good (Romans 8:28) reflected in the headlines of national newspapers? Many Christian leaders in the UK are encouraged by the reports that the British public is turning to prayer, and young UK adults are tuning into online services amid the COVID-19 crisis. They encourage believers to not discard it as a temporary surge but celebrate it as the beginning of the answer to prayers.
A nationwide survey done for the Christian agency Tearfund found that, “A quarter (24 percent) of UK adults say they have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown.” These are not just the people that regularly attended church already, as “one in twenty UK adults (5 percent) who say they have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown have never gone to church.”
One of the most surprising findings of this poll is that more British millennials are attending religious services since lockdown. One-third of UK adults between 18-34 years old are tuning in, compared to one in five adults that are older than 55. The Guardian reported the findings of the poll by stating that “young people lead resurgence of faith.”
Pete Greig, pastor and founder of the 24-7Prayer movement, calls this time an answer to prayer. In a widely shared Facebook post, he encourages people to not negate the small things God is doing right now, but celebrate it. “Faith needs fuel. Advances come a step at a time,” writes Greig. “If a shivering man spots sparks in the hearth on a cold, dark night, he’s unlikely to walk away. He’s a fool if he says ‘Oh those embers are nothing—too tiny to warm me, too fleeting to fight the cold of such a dark night!’…Instead he will draw close and kneel, reverently blowing on the embers, carefully adding fuel to build a fire. And so we see these signs and pray, ‘More, Lord.’”
In his optimistic report about the British spiritual climate, Greig explains that he has seen doubled attendance at his church, and a record sign-ups for the online Alpha course. “It seems to me that people are far more likely to attend a normal church service if they’ve attended a digital one first,” said Greig.
Greig says nobody expected this when the lockdowns first started. “I didn’t hear anyone back then…saying ‘Oh, canceling services and closing church buildings? That is genius! It’s obviously, inevitably going to bring more 18 to 34-year-olds to church. Guaranteed to reverse decades of decline, increase the sea-level of prayer and extend the reach of Alpha!’” He is hopeful that “these are signs of renewed spiritual hunger and long-term systemic realignment, at a time we’d least have expected it.”
It’s not just virtual church attendance that has increased, the crisis has also affected the frequency of and belief in prayer. According to the Tearfund survey, “among those who pray a third (33 percent) say that they have prayed since the COVID-19 lockdown because they believe it makes a difference.”
Dr. Ruth Valerio, Global Advocacy and Influencing Director at Tearfund, says: “It is encouraging to see the number of people in the UK praying during such a challenging time… 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.”
On May 3rd, 65 churches and movements all over the United Kingdom came together to create the UK Blessing Song, which has gone viral. Not only are these churches singing a blessing over their land, but according to the video, “Many of the churches included in this song have assisted with supplying over 400,000 meals to the most vulnerable and isolated in our nation since COVID-19 lockdown began.” The song, inspired by Numbers 6, has reached 2.3 million viewers so far.
“I’ve never known a time in my life when people are more open to [God’s word] than they are now,” said vicar Nicky Gumbel in an online Easter conference reported by Christian Today. “There are no other distractions. There’s no football, there’s no sport. There’s no entertainment. People have time to hear the Gospel.”
“People who would have never gone to church, the church is coming to them in their homes,” Gumbel said.