The Church in Scotland

Can the Church in Scotland rise again? Article for Premier –

This is an article I wrote for Premier – you can get the full original here –

Can the Church in Scotland rise again?

By: David Robertson | Aug 2015
The dour Scot, Private Fraser in Dad’s Army, has nothing on some of those commenting on the latest figures on church life in Scotland: ‘Doomed, doomed, you’re all doomed!’

Almost half of adults in Scotland do not identify with any religion, according to official figures. Some Christians are discouraged by this news and some of the more militant atheistic secularists can hardly contain their glee. The latest Scottish Household Survey (SHS), had 47% of people describing their ‘faith’ as none’. The proportion has increased from 40% in 2009.

27.8% identified themselves as Church of Scotland, 14.5% as Roman Catholic, 1.4% as Muslim, other Christian as 7.7%, Buddhist (0.3%), Sikh (0.1%), Jewish (0.1%), Hindu (0.3%), Pagan (0.1%), and other religion (0.5%). There has also been a corresponding decrease in the proportion describing themselves as ‘Church of Scotland’, from 34% to 28%. One always has to be careful about figures. The sample size (1,000 households) is not massive.

For every 1,000 people there is only one pagan, one Jew, 14 Muslims and 470 ‘no faith’ (incidentally this latter description is false – most of this group will have great faith – just not faith in God or gods!).  So what does this all mean? Is the church on the way out? Is Scotland progressing into an atheistic secularist nirvana, or regressing into a pagan mess?

Although the majority of people in Scotland (just) would still claim some kind of Christian faith, the fact is that the number of those attending church and engaging in any kind of Christian practice is declining.

Crisis in the Church?

The Church reached a numerical peak in the 1950s and it has been downhill ever since. Rather than that decline bottoming out (as for example in London), in Scotland it seems to be accelerating. The Church of Scotland has dropped below 400,000 members (it is doubtful whether more than 100,000 actually attend church each Sunday – meaning that less than 1% of Scotland’s population are actually in the Church of Scotland on any given Sunday) and is continuing to lose 20,000 members each year.

The Church is also facing a major financial crisis and above all a ministerial one, with only a handful of the required 30-40 ministers being trained each year. The picture is of a declining church in a declining culture. The Catholic Church is still struggling to recover from the child abuse scandals, and there is little evidence that other Protestant churches are making much of an impact.

As a result of the new moralistic philosophy of secular humanism being adopted by the metro-elites and governors of our culture, and the lack of a coherent and strong ‘salt and light’ Christian church, our culture has become increasingly confused.

There has been a general dumbing down. Things that would have been unthinkable a decade ago (such as same sex ‘marriage’) have now become the norm of the new morality. Things that are unthinkable just now; infanticide, involuntary euthanasia, polygamy, paedophilia could easily become the new ‘norm/human right’ in a world where the rich and powerful determine what the moral values are. We are a society that has ‘equality’ as its mantra, but yet we are becoming more unequal.

In one of the richest societies in the world we have tens of thousands who are relying on food banks. Our politicians say they want to support ‘the family’ but are unable to define what that actually is, and as a result many of their actions end up undermining the family. That is the environment which the Church in Scotland finds itself.

Encouraging news

Although overall the Church in Scotland is in decline, it is not all bad news. I see three areas where there is encouragement and renewal.

Firstly in the independent evangelical churches associated with FIEC – e.g. Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and the work of Twenty Schemes in Niddrie and elsewhere are beacons of light.

Secondly there are other biblical churches who have Christ and his Word at the centre of their lives and message who are seeing growth and development – some will be in the Church of Scotland, others associated with CLAN or other charismatic and ex-Brethren networks and some in the Baptist and Anglican churches. And how can anyone who believes in a Sovereign God exclude the possibility of him yet working in and through the Catholic Church?

We are also seeing the first signs of a renewed and reinvigorated Presbyterianism in Scotland in my own denomination, the Free Church. New churches are being planted, people are being converted and membership is increasing. The Free Church College has been relaunched as Edinburgh Theological Seminary, and there is a new leadership rising.  I came to my current church (St Peters in Dundee) in 1992 when the attendance was in single figures. Now there are over 250 (many of them young people), we have planted a new church in St Andrews and are planning a couple more.

In a hostile and increasingly militant secularist environment, traditional, liberal, nominal Christianity cannot survive. But those churches that have deep roots in the gospel will I believe see growth and renewal.

So we have a paradox. We have an increasingly atheistic secularist culture, marked by a rapid decline in Churchianity, along with an increasingly alive and growing biblical Christianity. It is the latter that turned the Roman empire upside down and indeed turned Scotland upside down before. All we can pray is ‘Lord, do it again’!


  1. Yes David and Amen.

    I like your dour Scot from Dad’s army quote *wink*.

    In the light of what you have been saying about the media and hostility to leading Christian figures in politics, my thoughts wend a little wider to consider Russel Band and the reason he gave for no longer broadcasting the “Trews” given that he has become the news rather than the ideas he has been trying to advocate. So I don’t think of this is a “Christian” or “church” issue alone but one that is common for anyone who is an advocate for truth and love in a climate of dark oppressive forces.

    When on focuses on the church in one sense it can look bleak – so called “religion” being considered as irrelevant and an object for mockery at best and dangerous at worst by some. On the other side of the coin perhaps a little persecution of the church is not a bad thing dare I say it, if the outcome is to be a unifying of Catholic, Evangelical, Traditionalist, Revisionist etc as different colours of a mosaic in unity with those differences in Christ rather than these differences being used as excuses for insensitivity and tribalism.

    I guess in the mean time there will be elements of the church that either through pride, synchrotism, or other means hinder the word – the gospel of good news of Jesus with prophets in probably Scotland being more likely to be stoned by the church than anyone else and needing to find other outlets than church environments.

    If the bible is to be believed as historical fact it has always been thus.

  2. If ever there was a time to read and digest and communicate the letters to the seven churches of Revelation, it is now. All the reasons for the present day demise of the so called established churches are clearly found there, as is the remedy to the problem. He who has an ear to hear let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

  3. Ironically I am in Madagascar at the moment and I attended one of the many Protestant churches this past Sunday where the building is packed tight to capacity 52 Sundays a year. If you don’t arrive at least 15 minutes before the service commences you might be lucky to find a seat. Often these churches have more than one service to accomodate all the members. The one has five services every Sunday throughout the year – the first one starting at 5am and the last one ending around 12h30 with 30 minutes between the services.
    Furthermore I am involved in a church planting project which is growing greatly in the rural areas. As I write here we are busy training another church planting team which will reach out in distant rural areas were they will plant new churches mostly in churchless areas and villages and continue to stay and work there for three-and-half years in order to guide the new churches towards maturity and independance. The biggest material needs coming forth from these church plants are Bibles and hymnbooks.
    I am aware of some other developping countries where the same thing is happening.

  4. Rev. Robertson — in your encouragements (all encouragements, indeed!), I am surprised that you have not cited the resurgent Old Dissenters, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. While still not large, their pulpits are all filled, new congregations are being started, old ones are now growing again. They still call on the country of Scotland and all the United Kingdom to return to covenant obligations to Christ, and individuals to faith and repentance in Him.

    1. Thats interesting…could you let me know how many churches, members and ministers there are? I was not aware of this resurgence. I would also be interested in what you mean by returning to ‘covenant obligations to Christ’ for the UK?

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