Why churches across Harborough are seeing a huge increase in congregations - despite the buildings being closed for services during lockdown

Virtual ‘congregations’ have rocketed at churches across Harborough since the Covid-19 emergency began.

By Red Williams
Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 10:12 am

Virtual ‘congregations’ have rocketed at churches across Harborough since the Covid-19 emergency began.

Thousands more people throughout the district are seeking spiritual support and reassurance online after church buildings were closed down in March.

The sudden leap in interest has amazed senior church clergy who have quickly adapted to dealing with the blanket UK-wide coronavirus lockdown.

Virtual congregations have rocketed at churches across Harborough since the Covid-19 emergency began.

People are tuning in to services frequently streamed through the internet.

They are also accessing on-line resources for prayer and teaching in far greater numbers than normally attend regular Sunday worship.

Market Harborough’s Living Rock independent church has seen its YouTube viewers soar to 12,446 - a staggering spike of 803 per cent.

The church, which normally meets at 10.30am every Sunday at the town’s Meadowdale Primary School, usually attracts about 400 worshippers at services across several East Midlands locations.

Harborough Methodist Church is releasing weekly YouTube videos which generate up to 450 views – with about half being ‘unique’.

Based on Northampton Road, Market Harborough, their total membership across three churches is about 175.

“I know of some friends in the local community who don’t come to church who have been watching,” said Methodist Minister Andy Murphy.

Andy said that people have been turning in from as far away as Durham and Australia as well as neighbouring Hinckley.

“They certainly wouldn’t normally be at our services,” he said.

Harborough Community Church on Bath Street, Harborough, said that double its normal congregation is connecting up to its online Sunday worship and preaching slot.

The Congregational Church, based on High Street, Harborough, is also reporting a similar doubling for its weekly audio service.

Harborough Baptist Church’s website resources are being accessed by up to 400 unique users every week, up from 50.

The town’s major Church of England and Roman Catholic churches are taking a different approach.

They are directing worshippers to the many online services already available.

These include mainstream media broadcasts such as the BBC’s popular Sunday Worship, together with diocesan and national offerings.

“Our folks are following Mass from churches across the country,” said Father Owen O’Neill, of Our Lady of Victories Church.

The Roman Catholic Church, based on Fairfield Road, Harborough, is also offering a weekly reflective newsletter on its website.

“Many people are able to tune into the church they were christened at or attended as a family in their younger days,” said Father O’Neill.

“It’s amazing how they’ve taken to technology.

“One wonders if it’s going to be the church of the future.”

Anglican Team Rector Barry Hill said they use video-conferencing facility Zoom to produce a weekly live service for their congregation.

That allows participants to see and talk to each other while youth and other church groups are staging their own interactive Zoom meetings.

Up to 100 screens with about 150 people take part on Sundays - which is fewer than the combined Sunday congregations across five local churches.

“I’m mindful that we know of 96 households from our churches who aren’t on the internet.

“So some of the team have put together and posted use-at-home services for use during the day,” said Barry.

“And generally we’ve seen quite a large increase in the amount of community engagement with others in the town, which is great.”