Major fall in churchgoers in Scotland over 30 years

Auslan Cramb
St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh - PA

The number of people regularly attending church in Scotland has fallen by more than half in the last 30 years, according to a new survey.

The survey of Christians across the country found there are around 390,000 regular Sunday churchgoers, down from 854,000 in 1984.

The research also revealed that two fifths are over 65, prompting a warning that Christianity is “in crisis” in Scotland.

The statistics were revealed by the 2016 Scottish Church Census, published by the Brierley Consultancy.

It shows that just 7.2 per cent of the population attend church on a regular basis, compared to 17 per cent in 1984, while the number of congregations has dropped by 400.

Other key findings include the fact that 40 per cent of churchgoers and nearly 80 per cent of church leaders are male.

Dr Peter Brierley, the lead researcher, said the figures indicated a crisis, adding: “We are living in the 21st century and one of the features of the 21st century is that people's allegiance to particular faiths is no longer as strong as it used to be.

"Part of the problem is the proportion of people in the church who are elderly is much greater than in the population of Scotland as a whole.

"So, you have a great number of churchgoers dying. The rate of replacement is not as many. That's the basic reason for decline.

The annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Credit: PA

"It's not that people are moving away from the faith, although I'm sure some are, but in general terms that is not the case.

"There are also quite a lot of invisible Christians who used to go to church, still believe in God, but they have moved house, perhaps to a rural area, and simply haven't found a church to go to.”

However, the census also revealed growth among some denominations, with attendance at Pentecostal churches almost doubling to 19,000 since 2002.

Aberdeenshire was the sole area bucking the downward trend with 350 more people attending church in 2016 compared with 2002.

This was credited to Polish immigrants working in the oil industry, with 25 Polish churches in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

The Rev Dr David Pickering, Moderator of the United Reformed Church Synod of Scotland, said the census did not make "terribly happy reading".

He added: "It's a crisis and an opportunity. Both present themselves.

"It presents a new opportunity for the church to portray the love of God and the good news of Jesus in a new way for a new generation. That's an opportunity and a challenge for us.

"Although I wish it were different, I think we must acknowledge that most congregations have more older people than younger, and most young people simply do not see the relevance of God, of Jesus, of the church, to their lives.

"And, of course, there are now more things to do on Sundays than there were even a generation ago. I think if the church doesn't respond, it is a crisis. If it does respond and it embraces the situation, that's positive."

The Bishop of Paisley, John Kennan, said he loses sleep over figures. "The real crisis that's going on is not that people aren't coming to us, it's that we've stopped going to them,” he added. “It's a geographical and a human reality. Essentially, we've stopped being part of the homes and lives of ordinary people.

"There's a sense that we could do this better if we thought about this, came together, and had some kind of a plan."

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