The Courier and other newspapers have recently run main articles on the continuing decline of the Church of Scotland. For example this one about the possible closure of Brechin cathedral – where the attendances are dreadful.
Today’s Courier has another report in the same vein. With some suggested solutions from Life and Work.
The media are reporting the situation correctly – the Church of Scotland is in freefall. After years of pretending otherwise, the leadership of the C of S now admits that is the case and that something needs to be done. We are told that the life expectancy of the Kirk is 30 years; membership is in freefall, there are not enough ministers and finance is a major problem. With such a dire situation all agree that something must be done. Life and Work tells us that this needs to be ‘radical’.
So far that ‘radicalism’ seems to be tied in with the ‘solutions’ offered by the theologian, Doug Gay, whose Chalmers lectures were fascinating – not least because the solutions they offered were at best sticky plaster and cosmetic, rather than radical. See the analysis here –
The Courier report today suggests that what is needed is just ‘rebranding’ – as though the problem were only one of image. Form and not substance. But surely people must realise that a clever marketing campaign will not save the Church?
The real solution is found within the article from Life and Work. The editor speaks of those who will object that ‘the timeless message of the church’ should not be subject to crass marketing. And therein lies the problem. Not with the marketing – but with what is being marketed.
Brechin cathedral was the church of Rev Scott Rennie (Rev. Rennie divorced his wife and is now ‘married’ to another man), before he moved to Queens Cross and precipitated the latest crisis in the Church of Scotland. You can read about the crisis this provoked here
The decline in the Church of Scotland has not happened because of the Scott Rennie situation. That situation is rather indicative of why this decline is happening. The Church has lost the ‘timeless message’ of the Gospel Whilst there remain ministers who preach the Gospel and congregations which practice it – overall the C of S has moved away from the Gospel and therefore we should not be surprised if Ichabod (the glory has departed) is written over Brechin Cathedral, and many of the denomination’s buildings and institutions. Sadly evangelicals have far too often acquiesced in this state of affairs, and have refused to challenge it, thinking that quiet infiltration will work. It won’t and it hasn’t.
The Gospel brings fruit – when you reject the Gospel you cannot expect fruit. A few years ago I was sitting in our church hall waiting for a children’s party to end. The man sitting beside me was waiting for his granddaughter and he initiated the following fascinating conversation:
“I’m an elder in the Kirk….our minister doesn’t believe in teaching the bible” (there was an amused reaction from some of the people sitting with us as they realised that he clearly hadn’t a clue who I was)…
“Oh, that’s interesting. Why does he think that?”
“It doesne attract the young people”
“That’s strange. Because in this church they really believe in teaching the bible. The minister here preaches for 30-40 minutes….twice on a Sunday! And we have around 100 young people. How many does your church have?”
“Can you see my problem? You say that your minister doesn’t teach the bible because it doesn’t attract the young people and yet you have no young people….and here they do teach the bible and they have lots of young people”
“Oh – I get your point”.
That was a few years ago. Yesterday morning we had a problem in St Peters. Downstairs was full (about 220 seats) and we were having communion. What would we do with the 45 people who had to go up to the balcony? We had to take the extra time and serve communion upstairs as well – for the first time ever (and this in the midst of the summer holidays!). I can remember preaching to single figures in this large, rundown and empty church. We still have lots of difficulties and problems but we are seeing Gospel prosperity. Why the difference? It has very little to do with me – it’s simply the Gospel being proclaimed and lived. The Lord has blessed. His word will not return to him empty. The primary reason that there is a lack of blessing is because that in churches up and down the land there is a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
The Church of Scotland does not need rebranding. It needs to rediscover the Gospel and to have the courage to proclaim it in a society which desperately needs it. The brand we need is not that of the marketeers and spin doctors, but rather that of the cross. Without that we have nothing. Never mind 30 years – the church is dying now.
Brechin cathedral is a suitable symbol for the C of S today – a large and mostly empty building with little life and nothing to say. Doug Gay’s tweaks to the system won’t work. It’s too late for Reformation. The only hope now is repentance and revival….We pray….
The weather this past weekend reminded me that we need the storm and lightning of the Holy Spirit…