The Scottish Church is in an interesting place. Perhaps a time of transition. Definitely a time of challenge. It would be very easy to focus simply on the negatives and challenges we face as a Church, but I want to be positive.
God is not finished with Scotland yet.
So let me begin by focusing on some of the things that encourage me.
There is church growth. It is often in the cities and larger towns. From the northern cities of Aberdeen and Inverness, to the central belt of Edinburgh and Glasgow and further west, I can take you to churches that are growing through conversations. This growth is not just in one style of church – there is growth in Pentecostal, charismatic and theologically conservative churches, from Elim and AOG, to ethnic minority churches to the Free Church. From the Islands to the borders there are signs of life.
There is a growing desire to help to identify, train and support pioneers and church planters. Ministries such as the Scottish School of Christian Mission, Forge, Cairn and others are trying to help churches think about what it means to be the people of faith in these times. These groups are also helping to identify church planters, which I think will be key to the re-evangelisation of our nation. Our own material at the Evangelical Alliance around What Kind of Church? has also been used by churches across the theological spectrum.
There is also a growth in prayer helped by groups such as Pray for Scotland, 24-7 and a host of other local and national groups.
Alpha continues to have a big impact across the nation and there is also growth in ministries seeking to take the gospel out of church buildings through Healing on the Streets, healing rooms, prophetic evangelism and so on. When you add all this to groups that engage in meeting the social needs of the poorest in our society, like Bethany Christian Trust, CAP, ROC and an amazing number of local initiatives, you can see that there are things to get excited about in the Scottish Church.
However, all is not rosy. There are huge challenges.
The major denominations have been slow to respond to the changing social climate in which we minister, and are seeing huge decline. There must be questions asked about whether the prevailing models of ministry within denominations such as the Church of Scotland can survive long term.
While there are changes taking place, will it be too little too late?
The average age of church attenders across the country is very high, and reaching lost generations – when many congregations lack energy or indeed the desire for change and challenge – is also going to be a big problem.
The need to have a clear strategy for winning back large proportions of the population who are living in housing schemes across the country is another key need. While some groups have done some amazing work in planting churches in housing schemes, there is still huge work to be done.
Scotland is a rapidly secularising nation, and the need for thoughtful apologetics, clear discipleship models and creating Christians who are confident in the public square all become more and more significant. The Church must think clearly about how we prepare and support the upcoming generations to follow and serve Jesus faithfully in complex times.
The challenges are real and clear, and we have been slow to respond to them.
In my opinion we have been far too focused on maintaining what we had, and way too slow to reach out in creative and risky ways beyond ourselves.
We have often put Church before mission and cared more about ourselves than the lost.
Some of us have clearly lost our first love and not listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
However, God is faithful and gracious. His love endures and He is rekindling in some a passion for the gospel, a deeper love and a desire to see the Kingdom of God advance across our land.
To connect with Fred and the team in Scotland, visit the Evangelical Alliance Scotland web page.