Churches struggling to find volunteers as cost-of-living crisis bites

06 March 2023

Churches are providing a vital lifeline for communities hit by the cost-of-living crisis, but a lack of volunteers is preventing them from doing more, a survey reveals.

An Ecclesiastical survey1 asked 583 churches about the services they provide to their community beyond their existing ministry work.

The survey found over a third (35%) provide food banks, a quarter (25%) provide warm banks, one in nine (11%) debt support and 5% are offering clothes banks.

Of the churches offering warm banks, almost one in six (15%) set up the service in the last 12 months in response to the spiralling cost of fuel putting a strain on households.

Overall, nearly half of churches (44%) said the cost-of-living crisis had led to higher demand for services, with a 21% increase in demand for foodbanks and a 5% increase in demand for debt support.

One of the main challenges facing churches in providing the services and meeting the demand has been the lack of volunteer availability. Over a quarter (27%) said that a lack of volunteers had affected their ability to offer services to the local community adding pressure to already stretched resources.

In a 2021 survey2 carried out by Ecclesiastical, half (52%) of churches said that they had seen a fall in volunteer numbers in the 12 months prior pointing to a major loss of volunteers since the pandemic.

Helen Richards, church operations director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “It’s no surprise to see churches stepping up to support their communities when most in need and the efforts to tackle the cost-of-living crisis reflect the wider contribution to society our churches make.

“Churches have faced their own challenges since the pandemic, and the shortage of volunteers has been one of those. They rely on their volunteers who devote over 23 million hours a month3 to their local church, looking after church buildings and making sure the worship and outreach work continue.

“With more demand on services offered, the church needs even more volunteers to help them support some of the most vulnerable people in their communities. If churches are unable to attract people to fill these roles then there is a real risk that they will be forced to stop providing these vital services, or even close altogether – which would be a huge loss to the country’s heritage.”

The findings also revealed many churches are offering more to their local communities, including parent toddler groups (45%), community rental spaces (41%) outreach services (36%) and youth groups (32%).

Ecclesiastical has produced a range of guidance for churches on some of the health and safety aspects of looking after volunteers.

1 Survey commissioned by Ecclesiastical Insurance and conducted by Bible Society between September and October 2022

2 Survey commissioned by Ecclesiastical Insurance and conducted by Bible Society in November 2021

3 Church of England data