A survey of churches in Scotland found nearly all those who responded offered online worship during the first coronavirus lockdown and more than one in eight plans to continue.
A total of 369 congregational leaders from 27 different denominations across Scotland responded to the study and, of these, 96% said they provided online worship during the first lockdown last year, when places of worship were closed.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, fewer than a fifth (18%) of the churches surveyed offered this service.
The study was produced in partnership by the Scottish Church Leaders’ Forum, Action of Churches Together in Scotland and Brendan Research and around half of responses – 184 – came from Church of Scotland ministers.
It found 82% of respondents plan to continue online worship in the future.
One Church of Scotland minister told researchers that take-up of online worship been “much higher than normal attendance” and has provided people with a “sense of community identity”.
However, another noted that many older members who are not technically minded feel “very left out”.
A minister said the digital divide in rural areas where connectivity is poor is “very real” and making online worship content is “extremely stressful”.
The report makes several recommendations to the Scottish Church, including that “online worship is here to stay, and needs to be adequately resourced”.
It also calls for online worship to be “adequately reflected upon”.
The report states: “The virus – and the lockdowns and restrictions that have accompanied it – have affected every part of society and caused extraordinary disruption and damage to the lives of Scots.
“The churches of Scotland have responded to the suffering and need of their communities with compassion, creativity and new missional partnerships.
“With buildings closed and normal patterns of ministry and mission disrupted, churches have innovated new practices of online worship, community service, evangelism and pastoral care.”
Rev Mark Slaney, convener of the Scottish Church Leaders’ Forum, said: “I welcome the report and the findings and recommendations ground what we already suspected.
“The necessary shift to online church life has drawn us into a much wider field for mission, ministry and worship and we must learn to live a new blend and balance of engagement, which could release us into new partnerships and places.”
Church leaders were invited to complete an online survey from October 26 to December 4 2020 and the report states the respondents represent around 10% of the estimated 3,700 congregations in Scotland, based on a 2017 church census.
Rev Neil Glover is among those who has offered online services, attracting a global audience.
The minister at Aberfeldy Church in Perthshire, which is linked with the nearby towns of Dull and Weem as well as Grandtully, Logierait and Strathtay, has been recording services at beauty spots and uploading them to a YouTube channel, reaching people as far away as North America.