Newspaper/Magazine Articles The Church in Scotland

Don’t Shoot the Messenger – Press Reaction to the C of S Decline.

I am sitting in the East Midlands airport and have just read the following from The Courier which was kindly sent to me…apparently it takes up their first three pages…good to know they read this blog!  Anyway I thought it was fair coverage of an important topic.  So I reproduce it in full below and will add a couple of comments at the end.

Front page splash: Kirk denies crisis as numbers plummet

The Courier & Advertiser 22 Apr 2015

ALARMING NEW statistics have revealed the Church of Scotland is losing about 300 members a week. A report published ahead of the 2015 General Assembly shows more than 155,000 members were lost between 2004 and 2014. Over the same period baptisms fell by almost 2,600 and the number of elders dropped by just under 9,000.

Not one presbytery enjoyed growth in 2014 — over the course of a year the average Church of Scotland congregation is gaining three members but losing 20. The next moderator of the Free Church of Scotland said thousands of members who pass away every year are not being replaced due to a “spiritual malaise”. The Rev David Robertson also cited a “moral decline” in the national church and said weak leadership on same-sex marriage and assisted suicide were responsible for the failure to attract new membership.

Speaking on behalf of the Church of Scotland, the Very Rev David Arnott insisted the assessment by the Free Church “bears little relation to reality”. He described the Church of Scotland as one of the country’s “largest and most robust organisations” and said thousands of people attended church services and backed church initiatives without registering as members.

Pages two and three spread: Church of Scotland is dying, says minister

The Courier & Advertiser 22 Apr 2015

SHOCKING FIGURES which show the Church of Scotland is losing 300 members a week have prompted claims that the Kirk faces a bleak future of “spiritual malaise”. “The Church of Scotland is literally dying,” said the Rev David Robertson, pictured, who takes up the role of moderator of the Free Church next month. Divisions over issues like same-sex marriage and assisted suicide meant new people were not willing to join the church as congregations died off, he said. Mr Robertson also claimed the Kirk’s demise would continue if it does not return to “more fundamental” values.

Figures contained in a 2015 General Assembly report show membership fell by more than 155,000 between 2004 and 2014.Meanwhile, the number of baptisms fell by almost 2,600 and the number of elders dropped by just under 9,000.“The present situation in the kirk deeply saddens me,” said Mr Robertson. “But I also believe that the Church of Scotland is declining numerically because it is in a theological and moral decline.”

Mr Robertson made his comments as the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly reports revealed the depth of the problem — membership declined by a further 16,000 last year and it has lost 130 parish ministers through either retirement or resignation since 2009. In tandem with the Church’s membership decline in the last 10 years it has seen a reduction in the number of congregations which has fallen over that period from 1,546 to 1,379.

Not one presbytery saw growth last year — a picture that is mirrored across Courier Country where every presbytery recorded a fall in congregation numbers. Speaking for the Church of Scotland the Very Rev David Arnott rejected the “gloomy” picture painted by the Free Church and said it bore little relation to reality.

“The official membership of the Church of Scotland has gently declined by 16,0000 in the course of a year,” he said.“It is a similar picture in many other mainstream churches. However with approaching 400,000 members the Church of Scotland remains one of Scotland’s largest and most robust organisations. “Moreover without ever registering as members, thousands of Scots attend church services and are committed participants in church initiatives such as food banks.

“Others participate in the life of the church through online activities such as a web streamed services.  “As regards ministers, 20 out of 800 have left because the church is considering allowing congregations the option of selecting a minister who is in a same sex relationship.”

Forfar denial of spiritual malaise

THE REV Dr Karen Fenwick of Lowson Church in Forfar said they were not seeing a massive decline in church membership locally. She said: “In fact, in my own congregation we have seen a year-on-year increase in attendance, bearing in mind that Church isn’t just about a Sunday morning. “Our last annual statistics showed that we have more than 220 youngsters from toddlers to teens attending regularly through our tots group, our youth clubs, our praise and dance group, our messy church and our Sunday services. “But it is important to realise that attendance and membership are two different things and always have been.“Many people join the Church, but then fail to attend.“Many people attend the Church, but fail to join.“Every year, congregations review their roll and remove those that they have lost touch with, hence it will look as though membership may have dropped, but that doesn’t mean that attendance has dropped.”“I can’t speak for elsewhere — I can only speak of our local situation, but I know the other churches in Forfar are also seeing renewed interest and increased attendance. “And anyone attending our Holy week and Easter activities would assure you that there was no spiritual malaise.”

People ‘connecting differently’

FIFE MINISTER the Rev Richard Baxter claimed headline membership numbers were “worse than useless” and painted a picture of an evolving church. The St Kenneth’s Parish Church minister said: “These statistics reflect the large number of people who 30 or 40 years ago were told they had to join the Church to get married then never attended a service. “The drop in membership isn’t close to what’s happening in actual church involvement.” He said people were connecting with the Church in ways other than attending the Sunday service.

Doomed to remain derelict

AS CONGREGATIONS decline, the problem of what to do with unused churches arises. Kinfauns Church near Perth has lain empty for 25 years after it was sold by the Church of Scotland due to rising repair costs and falling attendances. Plans for the building have been rejected on the grounds they aren’t compatible with the graveyard.

Editorial: Church still has much to offer

The Courier & Advertiser 22 Apr 2015

THERE ARE some stark difficulties facing the Church of Scotland.

There is no doubt that congregation members are dying off at a faster rate than new members are joining up. Apathy must indeed be tackled. The Rev David Robertson has his own feelings on the decline in membership and has been brutal in his assessment. Congregations are certainly dwindling and may even be reaching unsustainable levels in some cases. However, that should not lead to despair and grim acceptance of a terminal decline. Thousands of Scots still attend their local church every Sunday. Many more would say they feel a pull to the Kirk, even if increasingly busy lifestyles prevent them from attending every week. Church leaders have a key role to play in ensuring members of local communities engage with issues in the neighbourhood  and church. Whatever your opinion on religion, and the specific concerns raised by Mr Robertson, it is surely beyond dispute that the Kirk has traditionally offered a moral compass to the nation.

Mr Robertson cites divisions over same-sex marriage and assisted suicide.
These may have put off some potential new members but his assertion that the church is in “theological and moral decline” will doubtless be questioned by many senior officials. There may be difficult times ahead, but — with strong leadership — the Church can thrive.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

I don’t think what I said was brutal.  I told the truth.  It is reality.   Not comfortable.  Not nice.  But the reality.  This is in stark contrast to the wishful thinking of the clergy who seem to act more like politicians talking up their particular political parties, than pastors speaking the truth about what is a desperate situation. I care for the Church of Scotland which is why I wrote the article.   Lets just say something about the responses.

Very Rev David Arnott makes the claim again that my assessment bears little claim to reality.  Well given the fact that I was just citing his own figures I am astonished that he is denying them!  Or their significance. The words ‘a gentle decline’ still shock me in their carelessness and lack of compassion. 

Rev Dr Karen Fenwick says that her church has seen a regular increases in attendance but then says that she bases this not just on Sunday but on tots group, youth groups etc and therefore claims 220 youngsters as part of this.  I’m sorry but this is sleight of hand. It’s like me claiming that St Peters attendance is 500 plus because of the Wee Rascals, the Aspire project, the international cafe etc.

Rev Richard Baxter says the C of S’s own figures are worse than useless! He also admits that the drop in church membership isn’t close to whats happening in church involvement.  Indeed.   Church involvement is actually far worse.   I doubt that 25% of C of S members are regular attenders.  I don’t care how many youth organisations use the building etc…that is not the church – not even  in C of S theology.   But there is this fantasy church game that is played.  Some parishes include as ‘adherents’ of the church, everyone who is not Catholic.   The Church of Jesus Christ is there to worship, serve, proclaim him.  Those who don’t can hardly be claimed as ‘members’ or supporters.  When I give someone food from a food bank – they should not automatically be regarded as part of the Church.  That is as patronising as it is useless!

I agree entirely with the Courier that ‘with strong leadership, the church can thrive’.  But as the quotes above indicate, that is precisely what the C of S is missing.  A leadership which refuses to face up to reality is not strong.  A leadership which cannot cope with the truth being spoken is not strong.  And a leadership which deliberately and self-consiously turns away from the teaching of the Scriptures (as the C of S Assembly has done) is not strong.  The C of S needs a return not to ‘fundamental’ values (at least in the sense that that word is often used), it needs a return to biblical values….otherwise it has no point and no future.  Don’t shoot the messenger…(your fathers always killed the prophets!)…


  1. Can the church really be so blind? If my ‘gentle’ arithmetic is correct, and the ‘gentle’ decline continues at the same gentle rate, there will be no gentle members after only 24 years! And, yes, of course there are adherents, but food bank workers (an excellent initiative in itself) and toddler groups? Really? How about the Saturday morning Karate class which uses the local church hall? And let’s not forget when halls are used for elections! If it were not so sad, it would be truly comic.
    Keep prophesying, Reverend Flea!

  2. So, we have Arnott saying your claim has little to do with reality and you saying that the leadership in the CofS is not strong, does not face up to reality and is deliberately and self-consciously turning away from the scriptures, clearly inferring Arnott in this.

    For these reasons, it grieves me to read these comments in the press. I cannot see what benefit to the gospel such conversations with the secular press with criticisms of leadership going back and forth between different church denominations is achieving. Rather, I perceive them to make church look unattractive to outsiders and the conduct to be no different to the way political parties go about negative campaigning. It makes me feel less enthusiastic about church and I am not an outsider. Heaven knows what effect this has on someone who has never crossed the threshold of a church. Sad,

    I can only speak form my experience and in that I have a high regard for my minster in the CofS congregation I attend. He is a gifted expounder of the scriptures and without fail every time I listen to his sermons I leave with something more of knowledge of God and it being life enriching. I also have appreciated listening to you David and engaging with your comments here. I think you show great courage with what you do and I admire your passion for the gospel.

    There is so much beauty, joy, cause for contentedness and gratitude, fullness of life in following Jesus. It’s silly to miss that.

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