This post originally appeared on Pete Greigs' Facebook and has been reshared with permission.
Something is stirring in the UK…
There, I’ve said it. I’ve hesitated to write this post. It's probably premature. We're still bang-slap in the middle of a vast crisis and no one really knows how it's all going to end. But here's the thing: over recent weeks, and particularly over this last week, prayers that some of us have been praying for decades, suddenly seem to be finding answers in the most unexpected ways.
For starters there’s the national blessing song, pulled together by my friend Tim Hughes. Released a week ago, it’s now been watched 2.1 million times which is equivalent to 200 new people every single minute of every hour since last Sunday.
Is a worship song going viral everything we’re praying for? Of course not! But is it something? You’d better believe it! Maybe something is stirring?
There’s the research commissioned by Tearfund, released on the same day (quite coincidentally) as the UK Blessing song. It indicates that some 3 million new people have turned to prayer in the UK since lockdown began. British bookstore Eden reports a 55% increase in sales of bibles in April.
Demand for resources from 24-7 Prayer has been going through the roof. At Emmaus Rd our twice-daily prayer-meetings are suddenly wonderfully well attended. Now we know why!
Is a sudden surge of prayer everything we need? Of course not! But is it something? Could it be a start? You’d better believe it! Something seems to be stirring in the UK.
Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees for failing to read the signs of the times (Matthew 16:2-3). These great religious leaders could, he said, forecast the weather but they were oblivious to the presence and power of God right under their noses.
The Tearfund survey also indicates that record numbers have begun attending church online since the lockdown began. Generally, we'd expect around 5-7% of the nation to attend a Sunday service at least once a month. But over the past couple of months, this figure has jumped - in fact it has skyrocketed - to 24% of the British population. And 5% of these people wouldn’t normally be at church in, well... a month of Sundays!
“I've never known a time in my life,” says Nicky Gumbel, “when people are more open to [God’s word] than they are now.”
Is virtual church attendance everything we’re praying for? Of course not! But is it encouraging? You’d better believe it!
It seems to me that people are far more likely to attend a normal church service if they’ve attended a digital one first.
None of this is what any of us expected on that dark day in March when the government first forbade all public gatherings. I didn’t hear anyone back then - least of all the cynics who are now questioning these signs of life - saying ‘Oh, cancelling services and closing church buildings? That is genius! It’s obviously, inevitably going to bring more 18-34 year-olds to church. Guaranteed to reverse decades of decline, increase the sea-level of prayer and extend the reach of Alpha!’
Slowly the national media is picking up the story. First, the Guardian newspaper last Sunday. Then Good Morning Britain TV on Wednesday. A piece by my friend Krish Kandiah in the Times on Friday. The BBC News at 10 last night.
What are we to make of this? Is a week of positive media attention everything we’re praying for? Of course not! Is it widespread or prominent? No, not yet. But is it a pleasant change from the usual cynical sniping? Could it be an early sign that public opinion is preparing to shift? You’d better believe it!
I would never have believed a few months ago that I’d be seeing a headline in a major British paper saying this: “BRITISH PUBLIC TURN TO PRAYER AS ONE IN FOUR TUNE INTO RELIGIOUS SERVICES ONLINE.”
And then the stunning subtitle: “YOUNG PEOPLE LEAD RESURGENCE IN FAITH.”
Yep, you read that right: the demographic leading the charge to church is the sophisticated, supposedly post-Christian 18-34 year olds.
I decided a long time ago that I’d much rather be proved wrong as an optimist, than proved right as a pessimist. And so, I choose to hope.
Is a mere blip everything we’re wanting? Of course not! Would it be bitterly disappointing to look back at Christmas and see the church declining and secularism advancing once again? Yes, it would. But is this a moment of encouragement just when we needed it? Are there signs of renewed spiritual hunger and long-term systemic realignment at a time we’d least have expected it? You’d better believe this is a pretty good blip!
My friends, this is a time to pray with greater faith, preach with greater confidence, and plan with great ambition. It’s not everything but it’s something. Let’s dare to believe!
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