Is lockdown making us turn to prayer?
by Katie Harrison, Director of Faith Research Centre

In his latest YouTube clip, broadcaster Russell Brand claims that ‘we are looking for a sacred experience’. His slightly frantic spoken word performance reflects on the way that lockdown has, for some people, ‘forced us into a monastic corner’ and reports that we are all turning to prayer.

But how true is this? Are we all praying and seeking spiritual solace during lockdown?

Quantitative data which we gathered over two consecutive weekends during Covid-19 lockdown, for clients Tearfund and Christian Aid, found that no, we are not all praying. According to our research, 44% of adults in the UK say they pray. While the proportion of those who pray seem to have decreased since 2017 (from

51% to 44%), the proportion of those who pray regularly has seen a six
percentage points increase in that time (from 20% to 26%).

There are certainly new people praying. One in twenty (5%) people surveyed told us they have started praying during lockdown and didn’t do it before. Faith leaders will be interested in this group of people and, for those seeking to extend their congregations, these people will be a priority audience.

But there is no net gain in pray-ers, because 6% of people say they used to pray but have stopped since lockdown. This data doesn’t tell us why, and we would need to carry out more detailed quantitative research or a nuanced qualitative project to explore whether stopping prayer represents doubt, distraction or disillusionment. Whatever the cause, the faith leaders who are excited about the newcomers to prayer and the relatively high numbers of people engaging with religious services remotely will do well to remember that there are at least as many people turning away from prayer as those who are trying it out. When planning post-lockdown ministry, they will need to pay attention to retaining their flock as much as attracting new worshippers.

Lockdown, and extended periods of isolation or distancing, may be with us for a while. These findings are an indication of some responses to the early stages. So far, we are finding that:

Women are significantly more likely than men to say that since the COVID-19 lockdown they have:

  • Prayed for an end to the COVID-19 crisis (33% vs. 19% respectively)
  • Prayed for people working on the COVID-19 frontline and other key workers (33% ccs. 19% respectively)
  • Prayed for people living in poverty in the UK or around the world (25% vs. 17% respectively)

Adults in London are significantly more likely than those in most other GB regions/nations to say that since the COVID-19 lockdown they have:

  • Prayed for people working on the COVID-19 frontline and other key workers (37%)
  • Another region that stands out for this is the South East, where three in ten (31%) adults say the same. The overall GB response was 26%
  • Prayed for an end to the COVID-19 crisis (35%). Notably, relatively high proportions of adults in the East Midlands (31%) and South East (29%) also say this. The overall GB response was 26%
  • Prayed for people living in poverty in the UK or around the world (33%). The overall GB response was 21%

These confirm previous findings that, in general, women pray slightly more than men do, and that London has a distinctive religious demographic compared to the rest of the country.

 

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