Evangelism Scotland The Church in Scotland The Free Church

Transforming Scotland – the Barna Report

 Transforming Scotland is a new report published by Barna Global (available at Transforming Scotland – Barna Report According to the press release “Transforming Scotland is a unique and informal network of Christian leaders and The Maclellan Foundation. The group’s Steering Group is made up of individuals from Scottish churches, Scripture Union Scotland and the Scottish Bible Society. “ The research was made up of 1,000 interviews of Scottish adults, plus various church leaders and churches. This report is being launched this week at a series of meetings in Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. I have just returned from the Dundee one in the Steeple church at which there was a decent representation of mainly evangelicals from various denominations. There was a good group from the Free Church and from independent churches and the Church of Scotland.

As anyone who reads this blog knows – this is a subject I am really interested in – indeed as it happens I am currently preparing to speak at the Orkney Bible week this weekend. On the Saturday I am going to be doing a special seminar on the future of the Church in Scotland, and I will be useful to have the Barna report material.  So thanks to them for their timing!  I comment as someone who cares passionately about Scotland, the church in Scotland, and of course the gospel and the glory and honour of Jesus Christ. I should also at this point acknowledge that I am part of Transforming Scotland and have been from the beginning. I was aware of this report over six months ago, but obviously have been unable to talk about it, until it was officially published. I would like to thank MacLellan and all those who were part of the ‘Transforming’ group in our various discussions. So it should come as no surprise that I welcome the report and hope that it will prove a stimulus to thinking, prayer and action. Much of the information provided is what many of us involved in the work suspected, but nonetheless it is interesting, encouraging and depressing to have our fears and hopes confirmed.

Statistics –  For me some statistics stand out:

31% say Scotland is a Christian nation

52% identify as Christian – although 70% of them don’t believe the basics of Christian doctrine

17% of Scots claim to be born again Christians…1 in every six is a born again Christian- committed to Christ. “The presence of more than 800,000 Scots—17 percent of the population—who report they have confessed Jesus as Saviour and have made a commitment to him that is still important in their life today—even though nearly half of them do not currently attend church”

17% of Scots regard the bible as totally accurate or authoritative.

24% of 18-24 year olds do. 23% of young 18-24s say that faith has changed their lives, as compared with 12% of all adults.

One in 8 Scots attend church once a month – i.e. they are practicing Christians but only half of those say their faith has transformed their lives – which surely indicates that they should be called ‘churchgoers’ rather than Christians. If following Christ doesn’t change your life then what does?!

The decline in Church of Scotland has made the figures a lot worse.

Expository preaching in growing churches is stronger than those in what are called ‘baseline’ (non-growing) churches.

Drivers of Transformative Ministry  – The report lists nine ‘drivers of transformative ministry’: These are.

1. Leadership – Multiply not only church leaders, but also Christian leaders in every sphere of life.

2. Teamwork – Lead through strategic mutually accountable teams

3. Entrepreneurialism – embrace risks by releasing entrepreneurial leaders to innovate mission.

4. Bible – teach the whole bible for whole life transformation.

5. Community – Create communities of Jesus followers where know they belong.

6. Outreach – equip and release every Christian as a missionary disciple.

7. Prayer – Pray missionally and make prayer a mission.

8. Millennials – leverage the surprising spiritual openness among younger adults.

9. Partnerships – collaborate in unity for the sake of the gospel.

What are we to make of all of this? What do we hope will come from it? The presenter of the report asked us to wrestle with it and how it applies to our ministry. So I will try to do so.

First a general caveat. I read this from Colin Marshall this morning – “I’m worried about the language and concepts of the human resources world being applied to churches and pastors…….Each church is God’s holy temple. Let’s not destroy it by our assessment process”. There is a danger that we overanalyse and that we use the management language of the business culture for the church. Which is not to say that we should think, strategise or seek to understand – in the way that this report seeks to do.

Money well spent?

Secondly I have a specific concern linked to the above. In todays society there seems to be a tendency towards navel gazing by producing endless reports, strategies, inquiries and analysis. These do not come cheap. They cost in terms of time and money. We need to ensure that we do not divert money from mission, to spending it on talking about mission. God forbid that we should fall into the trap of spending more on navel gazing than Christ praising!

Sometimes I fear that we spend far too much time discussing, analysing and theorising (and I speak as someone who is as guilty of that as anyone else). We just need to get on with what we are called to do. It was stated that this report ‘is the voice of your country…. it introduces you to the people you are ministering to’. Actually it does nothing of the sort. It is a statistical analysis of some trends in society – but the only way I will be introduced to the people I am ministering to, is to get out and meet them! I think it’s called incarnational.

17% Born Again? 

As for the report itself, I don’t think that I learned anything new – apart from the one statistic that 17% of Scots claim to be born again. I just don’t believe that one. And neither does any Scottish church leader I know. I suspect this is taking an American cultural understanding, with a very vague definition of what commitment to Jesus means and putting two and two together and making 17. However it was encouraging that my instinct that young people (18-24) are more open to the gospel and that expository preaching is a mark of a growing church, was confirmed.

I also agree with the nine principles – although some of the jargon makes me cringe. We will return to these principles in a moment. There are also a few things that should make us wary about the report itself, before we give it too much authority. The sample size is too small and the questions somewhat loaded – this is especially true when we talk about ‘millenials’. For example there is an astonishing statistic that 23% of young 18-24s say that faith has changed their lives as compared with 12% of all adults. The problem here is not just with sample size; it is all with definitions – what is faith? And faith in what?

A Wall of Indifference? As I wrestle with the report and the presentation I find myself approaching things from a different angle. I don’t agree that there is a rising wall of indifference. This may be true in an American context, but not in Scotland. We have had a high wall of indifference for many decades. What there is, is a growing wall of antagonism. This is seen ironically in the section of the report that is entitled ‘good news’. For example 61% of Scots think that Christianity has ‘good values and principles’. If we were starting from a zero position, in a heathen country or that of another faith, that would be great news. But given our context it is disappointing that 40% of Scots don’t think that Christianity has good values or principles. It indicates an increasingly negative attitude.

The Key Lesson?  Barna describe the key lesson they take in the following way: Large-scale changes to Scotland’s cultural and religious landscapes have resulted in a different religious environment. The current way of doing church in Scotland has not yet adapted to this changing environment. Churches in Scotland must change and adapt in order to remain relevant to their changing culture. For this to occur, churches need to consider the needs of the changing population and culture, and adapt both methods and message to meet these needs.

I don’t like the terminology ‘the current way of doing church in Scotland’. We don’t ‘do’ church. We are church. And when we are church I’m not sure our priority is to ‘adapt to the changing environment’. Should our priority not be to follow Christ, and to seek to change the environment? I know that we need to take account of the culture, and to understand it, but how much should we adapt to it? It seems to me that one of the reasons the church is in the mess we are in, is precisely because we have adapted to suit the culture far too much…and usually we have adapted too late. And I don’t buy into this ‘remaining relevant’ aspect – especially when I think that one of the reasons we are overall not relevant now, is because we have been trying too hard to be relevant, and not hard enough to be faithful to Christ.

Now I realize that some of this is a question of emphasis – and that’s why we have to wrestle. But where the alarm bells really ring is when we are told, on the basis of market research, to ‘adapt both methods and message’. We can adapt how we communicate but I don’t think we have the right to adapt the message.

And there is one other caveat about the whole report. We are not in the marketing business, seeking to find out what people want from the church so that we can provide it. I often get non-Christians telling me how the church should be run, what we should believe and what we should provide. But it’s not up to non-Christians to run the church – its up to Christ. It’s his church. Our responsibility is to recognize him as the head and seek to follow what he wants. I suspect as we become more and more the bride of Christ, it may not be what people think they want, but it is what they need and it will be what draws them to him.

I don’t want to be negative about the report. We just need to make sure that we don’t overhype it, or see it as something new and significant. It is a useful tool to help us think through where we are at and how we encourage the church in Scotland today. I intend to write a weekly blog, as far as God enables me, wrestling with some of the issues raised in the report and looking at the whole state of the church in Scotland today.

The Nine Principles – But let me finish this summary by going back to the nine principles. In general they are good and biblical, but please lets not have language about ‘leveraging’ spiritual openness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. We need to be careful that we do not seek to manipulate. And then there is the question of unity. We must collaborate in unity for the sake of the Gospel. Amen and Amen. I know that everyone will agree in principle, but in practice it is going to be difficult. Too many of us are seeking to preserve, promote and maintain ‘our’ ministries. But if we are genuinely to work together, first of all we need to work out what we mean by the Gospel. The report warns us about theological divisions. And rightly so. But they should have put the word ‘unnecessary’ in. There are secondary issues which should not hinder our working together – but there are primary issues which absolutely must hinder working together. I sat beside my good friend, Jim Turrent, of Central Baptist Church at the presentation. Differences over baptism will not and should not stop us working together. But I cannot work with someone who denies the Bible is the Word of God, or that Jesus is the Son of God, or that there is a heaven and a hell. I will not work with someone who supports the slaughter of innocents in the womb, or supports SSM or other perversions of the standards of God’s Word. Theological differences are at that point vital – because they prevent us proclaiming a false Christ and an uncertain word.

Something Missing? –  Also as regards the ‘nine points’, there is something about them that just doesn’t seem quite right. Something is missing. I am trying to work out what that is, and I am not clear yet…but let me have a go. Strangely enough I htink it is because they seem very inward looking and are more about transforming the Church than transforming Scotland. I guess that if the Church is transformed then it will have a transformational effect upon the whole country. But I would love to have added to the nine points education, biblical ecclesiology, prophetic preaching, mercy ministries, creative arts and perhaps above all, repentance.

Scotland is in the state it is in, not because of the ‘world’ or the culture…we are in the state we are in because of the Church. We need to repent of our lukewarmness, unbelief, hypocrisy, lack of zeal and lovelessness. We need to realize that we cannot do or say anything that will fundamentally change the situation. Without the Spirit of Christ we are lost. We can write Ichabod over our nation. But we are promised the Spirit of Christ. There is hope: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

An edited version of this appeared on Christian Today website –



  1. Thanks for your insightful comments, David, as someone who, better than most knows the real scene. A friend of mine who is a Consultant defines a Consultant as someone who charges you for telling you what you already know and I think this largely rings true here. I don’t think we’ve really learned anything here and frankly I don’t believe most of the statistics as they are far too optimistic. If only all the time spent in Committees and admin work, and all the thousands of pounds spent on this project had been spent on ministry, reaching pagan Scotland.

  2. Yes totally, I agree with your conclusion David about there being something missing.

    At the same time I’m not sure if I am having problem with understanding you as you intend in getting to that conclusion. You comment “I don’t buy into this ‘remaining relevant’ aspect” and it about being
    “faithful to Christ”. Is is it not true that part of being faithful to Christ is to be relevant to the surrounding culture just s the apostle Paul was a Greek to the Greeks Jew to the Jews, gentile to the gentiles so that any difference would not be a hindrance to the gospel?

    i might think of one ministry that seems to be honouring to Christ and this principle with Street Pastors in working with police, and local government in providing a caring, listening and helping service to clubbers with a hard earned good reputation.

    “We are not in the marketing business” – Completely agree and one thing that I can find alienating on a Sunday can be that the experience in church can be more like a job or show business than worship and community with the incarnate Jesus.

    If I were to attempt to put a finger on it about there being “something missing”, it would be the church with a soul. There are some exceptions but it seems to e that there is much BS in Christian culture giving the appearance of Christ likeness but lacking reality about it. This can simply be addressed by holding onto systems and structures lightly, embracing creativity being willing to surrender the ego, to know the power of God to open up the hearts of men and women to God and to each other.

    More simple than any marketing or “vision casting” but often times more difficult. We all in the natural are inclined to try to control the environments we are in and not to surrender to the perfect love in Christ.

  3. Excellent post, and I hazard a guess that what is missing from the list is found in its title. By diverting from Paul—who states that ministers are to be “found faithful” (1 Cor 4:2)—the ruling factor in the Barna list is “transformative ministry”, a task neither charged to ministers in Scripture nor, as you quite rightly point out in your critique of “‘leveraging’ spiritual openness”, one that ministers are capable of. Once we appropriate to ourselves the work of the Holy Spirit, the inevitable end is to replace the appointed means of grace with anything that may persuade the world to come in. Sales teams are rather good at persuasion, so why not adopt their techniques?

    I also wish the popular Christian authors and prelates would cease with the incessant junk-words. Most of the descriptions for the items on the list are incomprehensible or intentionally vague. You certainly couldn’t figure out what any of them mean by looking in a dictionary. Perhaps we can hire Tom Cruise to give us advice on Item 7?

  4. “One in 8 Scots attend church once a month – i.e. they are practicing Christians but only half of those say their faith has transformed their lives – which surely indicates that they should be called ‘churchgoers’ rather than Christians. If following Christ doesn’t change your life then what does?!”

    Too true. Chesterton puts it thus “Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”

  5. Thank you Brother for your views, which are similar to my own.
    Having worked with a lot of Americans, within various Christian Fields … There are a lot of methods trying to be used in Churches Worldwide which come from Corporate America.
    We require more True Bible Teaching and less Social Gospel … Let’s make Scotland once more “The Land of the Book” and less Corporate / Business.
    Let’s alow Our Lord Jesus Christ … To be Our Lord in All Things.
    God Bless You Brother.

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