More than 2,500 claims were made to the main Church of England insurer last year, surpassing the previous highest figure of more than 2,400 in 2008.
Chelmsford Diocese in Essex topped the league of worst-hit places in the UK, according to Ecclesiastical, which received more than 90 claims for metal theft from churches in the area.
The dioceses of Lincoln and Lichfield in the Midlands were found to be the second and third worst affected, with both making more than 80 claims after lead was stolen from church roofs.
London and the Nottinghamshire diocese of Southwell were in fourth and fifth positions respectively, followed by Oxford, Manchester, Salisbury, Blackburn and Southwark.
Although last year saw the highest number of claims, the value of claims has been higher in previous years, Ecclesiastical said.
A survey carried out for the insurer indicated strong support from the public for a toughening up of the legislation on metal theft, with two thirds (67 per cent) of UK adults in favour of changes to the law to make it harder for criminals to sell stolen lead and other metals to scrap dealers.
A further 23 per cent said they would tend to support such legislative changes, the poll found.
Meanwhile half of the public said they would strongly support tougher sentencing for criminals convicted of stealing metal from churches or other places of worship and a further 29 per cent would “tend to support” such measures.
Some 18 per cent of adults said metal theft had had a direct impact on their employment or personal lives in terms of its effect on transport, energy networks and farming since 2007.
John Coates, Ecclesiastical’s direct insurance services director, said: “2011 has been a very tough year, with incidents of metal theft from churches becoming virtually endemic.
“If there is any light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the groundswell of public awareness of the problem this year and the growing sense of outrage.
“Our survey shows that the public does not want this state of affairs to continue and will support action to crack down on metal thieves and the methods they use to gain money for their stolen goods.”