A study by the University of Chester and Manchester Metropolitan University (seemingly focused on members of the Church of England) suggests that people’s experience of online worship has not been particularly positive.
I don’t suppose any of this will come as a shock to anyone who has been trying to maintain a corporate worship life for the past year and a half. On the whole, people find disembodied worship unsatisfying. They seem to find those online platforms that allow for interaction (like Zoom) to be better than those that don’t (like livestreaming), though these do tend to restrict the numbers that can participate. The most positive reaction to online worship seems to be from those who use it as an entry point to a particular community or tradition.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that clergy seem more positive about the experience than the laity. One suggestion is that this is because clergy were often in the building where the community had perviously gathered for worship, making the experience more familiar and embodied than the experience of the laity. My own experience during the period when public worship was restricted was of gathering in a large cathedral with about ten people to celebrate the liturgy that would be livestreamed. It felt odd to have row upon row of empty pews, but still felt like I was participating in a liturgy–a feeling I don’t have when watching a livestream.
I think a question that more and more parishes will be facing in the months ahead is whether the effort involved in providing online worship will be worth it. It can provide people who want to check out your parish a foot in the door, but are those numbers worth the effort? It can provide access to the disabled and shut in, but are there more effective ways of making those people truly part of the community?