Monday, 30 May 2016

The Invisible Church

We’re all used to seeing statistics of church decline. The recent Scottish Church Census is likely to show fewer people attending than when the last survey took place in 2002. People will have joined churches since then, but that will be outweighed by the numbers who have died or left. This might sound all ‘gloom and doom’, but a new book by Steve Aisthorpe tells a more hopeful story. It’s called The Invisible Church: Learning from the experiences of churchless Christians.  
Steve returned to his church in the Scottish Highlands after working in Nepal for 15 years. He soon became aware that a few people had left the church over the years. And as he began meeting some of them he realised that, although they had left church, most of them claimed to have kept their faith. This prompted Steve to begin researching the experiences of church-leavers in Scotland. Previous research in England and Wales had asked churchgoers why other people had left. Steve’s research was done among church-leavers themselves. It confirmed that most people who stop going to church do not stop believing – in fact, many of them find a new lease of spiritual life and growth! They continue to pursue their faith, either alone or in small groups of like-minded friends. Many of them even find that they can be more missionally effective this way.

Although the book is based on academic research it is extremely readable and practical. It helps us understand the reasons why people leave churches, what their experiences are once they’ve left, and how churches might respond to this. It shows that decline in church attendance does not necessarily mean there’s a decline in Christianity. That’s where the title of the book comes from. If the visible church is in decline, it seems there is a big invisible church out there that we need to understand and to learn from.

Steve’s research offers a number of interesting and helpful insights. He outlines a number of phases that people typically go through in the process of leaving a church and describes how churches create a culture that might be ‘helpful and comfortable for some people, but challenging for others.’  He says that 3 out of 10 ‘churchless Christians’ would return if their church changed the way it did things, but that the majority would not return and are ‘contentedly non-congregational’. He also suggests where the Church may be heading and how it might be reshaped as institutional churches decline and informal or organic expressions of Church grow. Each chapter concludes with a page of questions and activities for further reflection.

This book is for anyone who is concerned about decline (aren’t we all!) and who wants to see signs of hope and glimpses of the possible future shape of the Church. It's a helpful and hopeful read – but also a challenging one. I highly recommend it. 

Incidentally, the early Salvation Army gets a mention, but you’ll need to buy the book to see what it says. (It is positive!)

The book is available from

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts

 PS If you searching for it elsewhere online don't confuse it with The Invisible Church: Finding Spirituality Where You Are by McGehee and Thomas

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Week 5: Scottish Election 'Video Manifesto' Project

The final video in our series is out today. It shows
Maggie Chapman (Scottish Greens Co-Convenor) visiting our Debt Advice Centre and Food Bank at Edinburgh Gorgie Salvation Army.

Major Kathy Betteridge asks her what can be done to restrict high-cost credit and to support lower cost borrowing, and Beverley Johnston asks her what should be done to ensure that people do not need to resort to food banks.

The webpage has links to the previous four videos showing:
·         Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Labour Leader) at The Pleasance Lifehouse in Edinburgh
·         Willie Rennie (Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader) at Eagle Lodge Older People's Care Home in Leith
·         Stuart McMillan (SNP) at Greenock Drug & Alcohol Floating Support Service
·         Margaret Mitchell (Scottish Conservatives) at the New Future Employability and Training Centre in Falkirk

Follow the conversation on #AskingQuestionsThatMatter.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Week 4: Scottish Election 'Video Manifesto' Project

The fourth video in our series is out today. It shows Margaret Mitchell (Scottish Conservatives) visiting the New Future Employability and Training Centre in Falkirk.

With employment support services being devolved to Scotland from next year we ask her how these services can be designed to give the best support for those who face the greatest barriers to employment. We also ask what measures need to be taken to lower unemployment and provide worthwhile jobs. You can watch the video at
The webpage has links to the previous three videos, which show the Scottish Labour Leader at The Pleasance Lifehouse in Edinburgh, the Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader at Eagle Lodge Older People's Care Home in Leith, and an SNP candidate at Greenock Drug & Alcohol Floating Support Service. There's also a brief overview of all the parties' views and a downloadable Salvation Army policy briefing.

The final video will be released next Friday showing Maggie Chapman (Scottish Greens Co-Convenor) at the Edinburgh Gorgie Debt Advice Centre and Food Bank.

Follow the conversation on #AskingQuestionsThatMatter. And don't forget to vote on 5 May!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Growing Churches

Image result for growing churches

The Scottish Church Census takes place on Sunday 8 May. Every one of the 4,000 local churches in Scotland will be invited to take part. If you are a corps leader, hopefully you’ll have had the forms by now.

This is the fourth such census, and like those in 1984, 1994 and 2002 it is a comprehensive survey of all denominations and every local church in Scotland. It will measure trends in churchgoing, and also explore certain factors which are thought to lie behind some of the recent changes in churchgoing patterns.

With this in mind you may be interested in a recent article from FutureFirst – a bulletin produced by Brierley Consultancy, which is also administering the church census. The article is based on UK church statistics and has been adapted for this blog. 

Churches are Growing (from FutureFirst, April 2016)

Although church decline is a common experience, some churches are growing. Which kind of churches are these? There are three broad types, and they mostly involve people under the age of 40.

The first type is Fresh Expressions (including Messy Church). These tend to be groups of people meeting informally, not always on a Sunday and not always in a church building. They may meet in a school or village hall, and often include parents and children. They are usually very friendly and give families in particular a sense of belonging. A warm welcome is part of what they are about as well as a time of worship.

For 41% who attend, it is the only church they have ever attended. Such groups have been initiated by churches of various denominations, including The Salvation Army. Resources are being published by the Bible Reading Fellowship especially for Messy Churches (

Then there are church plants. Some churches are starting new congregations that tend to be more formal than fresh expressions or messy church. These church plants will often meet in a hall or school or in a church, usually at a different time from the main services, and thus can be more convenient for those who have jobs or other responsibilities on a Sunday morning.

Some of these infant churches have quite robust congregations, while others are fairly small. Size doesn't seem to matter, but the age of the person leading the new congregation generally is under 50. It is very hard work starting a church like this, and it requires much dedicated effort, support and determination to keep on going.

The third area of growth is growing Sunday congregations. Larger churches seem better able to grow in this way than smaller churches. The main reason for their growth is the quality of the preaching (so say 91% of newcomers to larger churches), which is frequently relevant to their life and very helpful in explaining what the Bible means on various topics. Worship and welcome are especially important here also — some churches have two coffee queues after the service, free for newcomers, donation please from existing attendees!

Has there been a corresponding increase in church membership? Some denominations are definitely growing such as the Orthodox, Independent, New and Pentecostal churches, all of which have seen a membership increase since 2011.

The population generally continues to increase, some of whom would indicate as being ‘Christian’ in a poll. Does all this mean that the church overall is growing? Sadly no, it doesn't, because the number of people dying with a church background in an ageing population is very large. Some 7,000 church people die every week, across all denominations, and the number of new people joining a church by any of the ways given above is collectively probably only a fifth of that number, so numbers continue to decrease. But that doesn't stop your church doing something new!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Week3: Scottish Election 'Video Manifesto' Project

The latest video is our series has been released today. It features SNP candidate Stuart McMillan visiting our Greenock Drug & Alcohol Floating Support Service. Two of the service users, Shaun and Glen ask him about alcohol advertising and about support services for people in recovery. You can watch the video at

The webpage has links to the previous two videos, which show Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale visiting The Pleasance Lifehouse in Edinburgh and Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie visiting Eagle Lodge Older People's Care Home in Leith. 

There's also a brief overview of all the parties' views and a downloadable Salvation Army policy briefing.

The remaining videos will be released on the next two Fridays and show the Scottish Conservative Justice Spokesperson, Margaret Mitchell, at the Employability and Training Centre in Falkirk, and the Scottish Green Party Co-Convenor, Maggie Chapman, at the Edinburgh Gorgie Debt Advice Centre and Foodbank.

Follow the conversation on #AskingQuestionsThatMatter

Friday, 8 April 2016

Week 2: Scottish Election 'Video Manifesto' Project

We launched our 'Video Manifesto' Project last week featuring Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale visiting The Pleasance Lifehouse in Edinburgh. This week we feature Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie visiting Eagle Lodge Older People's Care Home in Leith.

Eilidh (one of the residents) and Ian (the home manager) ask Willie about the needs of an aging population and the cost of staying in a care home. You can watch the video at

The webpage also gives a brief overview of all the parties' views and has a downloadable Salvation Army policy briefing. There's also a link to last week's video in case you missed it!

On the next three Fridays we'll release videos showing other party leaders or representatives visiting centres that offer drug & alcohol support, employability support, and debt advice.

We also have worship materials linked with the five themes, downloadable from

Follow the conversation on #AskingQuestionsThatMatter

Friday, 1 April 2016

Scottish Election 'Video Manifesto' Project

The Scottish Election is on Thursday 5 May, and in connection with that The Salvation Army Scotland Office has launched the Scottish Election 'Video Manifesto' project. You can see all the details at

The webpage features a 5-minute video in which Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale visits The Pleasance Lifehouse in Edinburgh, and Iain Wilson, the Service Manager, asks her questions about homelessness policy. The page also gives a brief overview of all the parties' views and has a downloadable Salvation Army policy briefing.

On the next four Fridays we'll release films showing the other party leaders or representatives visiting centres that offer older people's care, drug & alcohol support, employability support, and debt advice.

We also have worship materials linked with the five themes, downloadable from

Follow the conversation on #AskingQuestionsThatMatter

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Poem for Palm Sunday

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Jesus comes to the gate, to the synagogue,
to houses prepared for wedding parties,
to the pools where people wait to be healed,
to the temple where lambs are sold,
to gardens, beautiful in the moonlight.
He comes to the governor’s palace.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you,
to new subdivisions and trailer parks,
to penthouses and basement apartments,
to the factory, the hospital and the Cineplex,
to the big box outlet centre and to churches,
with the same old same old message,
unchanged from the beginning of time.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you
with his Good News and…
Hope erupts! Joy springs forth!
The very stones cry out,
“Hosanna in the highest,
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The crowds jostle and push,
they can’t get close enough!
People running alongside flinging down their coats before him!
Jesus, the parade marshal, waving, smiling.
The paparazzi elbow for room,
looking for that perfect picture for the headline,
“The Man Who Would Be King”.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you
and gets the red carpet treatment.
Children waving real palm branches from the florist,
silk palm branches from Wal-mart,
palms made from green construction paper.
Hosannas ringing in churches, chapels, cathedrals,
in monasteries, basilicas and tent-meetings.
King Jesus, honored in a thousand hymns
in Canada, Cameroon, Calcutta and Canberra.
We LOVE this great big powerful capital K King Jesus
coming in glory and splendor and majesty
and awe and power and might.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Kingly, he takes a towel and washes feet.
With majesty, he serves bread and wine.
With honour, he prays all night.
With power, he puts on chains.
Jesus, King of all creation, appears in state
in the eyes of the prisoner, the AIDS orphan, the crack addict,
asking for one cup of cold water,
one coat shared with someone who has none,
one heart, yours,
and a second mile.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Can you see him?                                                                  Carol Penner



Friday, 4 March 2016

World Day of Prayer

Together in Prayer - £2.50 each

Today is World Day of Prayer. The website tells me that ‘World Day of Prayer is a global, ecumenical movement of Christian women joined together to observe a common day of prayer each year on the first Friday of March.’ Their motto of ‘Informed Prayer & Prayerful Action’ signifies that prayer and action are inseparable. This year’s theme is ‘Receive Children. Receive Me’ and a service on this theme has been devised by women in Cuba.


A survey by Tearfund a few years ago revealed there is huge interest and involvement in prayer, even among people who don’t go to church. It found that:

  • 42% (20 million) of adults in the UK pray
  • one in three (16 million) say ‘there is a God who watches over me and answers my prayer’
  • One in five (10 million) believe that prayer ‘changes the world’.     
    If prayer is so important for so many who don’t darken church doors, then presumably it must be more important for those who do. Of course it is – but, if we’re honest, there are times when we find it difficult. Christian author Veronica Zundel, reflecting on Psalm 5, writes: ‘If you are like me, times of stress are the very times when any discipline of prayer falls apart. Harassed by circumstances, burdened by lists of tasks which never seem to get ticked off, discouraged by disaster, the last person to whom we want to turn for help is God – after all, isn’t God the one who ought to have made it all right for us?’
    A number of years ago I was talking with a Royal Navy chaplain whose ship was preparing for deployment in the Falklands. This meant that the crew, including him, got up at 5.30am, began work at 6.30am and went to bed at midnight. That was the pattern for six weeks and was designed to test how they handled stress. Imagine trying to fit daily devotions into that kind of schedule – they’re likely to be thrown overboard! Even for those of us with more time to spare than that, it can be a struggle to give time to prayer. But if we acknowledge the vital importance of prayer it should be a regular habit. As Zundel goes on to say: ‘it is only by habitually bring our desires to God that they can be shaped to God’s will.’    
    Lent is traditionally an opportunity to take stock of our spiritual lives. Maybe during this Lent we can take stock of our prayer life. That could begin by finding a World Day of Prayer service near you. I believe men are welcome too! 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Shaun's story

Shaun is electrical engineer who lost everything when his drinking spiralled out of control.

Shaun Murphy says the local Salvation Army saved his life and without its help he wouldn’t be here today.

The 59-year-old worked and travelled all over the world in places such as South Africa and Saudi but he couldn’t beat his alcohol addiction.

He said: “I was very young, just 16, when I started drinking. I was an electrician by trade and working away from home. There was a lot of encouragement for me to drink when I was working overseas. There was no permanence for me.

“I was in relationships but they broke down, because of the nature of my work and because of my drinking. It was a vicious circle.”

In his mid-20s Shaun progressed his career and gained an HND in electrical engineering and acquired positions at home and abroad but could not settle.

He said: “I had really good jobs but I couldn’t see them through.”
On a bad day he could down a bottle of whisky or vodka.

He said: “I was absolutely wasted. It had a terrible affect on me mentally, physically and spiritually. I had no hope.”

The turning point came when Shaun lost a flat he had in England and was living rough.

He sought help from a homeless unit who suggested he move to Scotland to get the help he needed. He took their advice and came up to Edinburgh in 2006 but fared no better there. Then the Salvation Army said he should try their rehab unit at Fewster House in Greenock — and at last he found recovery.

He said: “They ran a 12-step programme of complete abstinence. It saved my life.
I would have probably ended up dead if it hadn’t been for Fewster House. I needed the support and I couldn’t get it anywhere else.”

Shaun stayed at Fewster until it closed and then a floating support service helped him secure a flat in High Street.

He’s now enjoying his life of sobriety in his new home town and his mum also moved here in 2013 after his father died.

He said: “I like the friendliness of the people. I like the scenery and the walks along the Esplanade, the Clyde Estuary and the view of the Argyll hills. It’s total peace.” 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

SNP MSP praises Salvation Army's Scottish Election 2016 film project

A Salvation Army film project has been giving people at risk of being made homelessness the chance to quiz politicians on the issues affecting them.

Service users at The Salvation Army's Greenock Floating Support Service – which provides housing support to adults with addiction issues – got the chance to come up with some questions for local SNP MSP Stuart McMillan.

The event was the latest part of The Salvation Army's Scottish Election 2016 film project – a series of short films that will be used to highlight the main political parties’ responses to issues highlighted by the church and charity's frontline services. The issues are: drug and alcohol misuse, homelessness, employability, older people, and debt. The series of short films will be released on social media in the weeks before the Scottish Election on May 5, 2016.

Leaders and representatives from the five main political parties have accepted an invitation to visit a frontline Salvation Army service that deals with one of the issues in the films.

Stuart McMillan, MSP for West Scotland, said: "As the SNP representative in The Salvation Army's film project, it has been a hugely interesting experience.

“I'm well aware of the wide range of services The Salvation Army provides in Greenock and across Scotland. I've always been greatly impressed by this work and I know that it genuinely helps people get their lives back so they can contribute in a positive way to society.
"The public sector can't solve every single issue and this is where organisations like The Salvation Army have a huge part to play in our communities."

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Roberts, The Salvation Army's Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland, said: "This is a great opportunity for The Salvation Army and our service users to ask the questions that matter. For example, one issue that has come up among our service users is the availability of sustainable tenancies for vulnerable adults.

“It has all the hallmarks of being an interesting discussion and everyone at The Salvation Army is looking forward to it.”

One service user who got to put a question to the MSP was Shaun Murphy. Shaun has been with The Salvation Army since 2007, starting out at its former Fewster House service in Greenock before being supported into his own flat.

Shaun asked Mr McMillan if the Scottish Government would consider banning alcohol advertising in public. Mr McMillan replied that the matter was a reserved issue for Westminster but added that the Scottish Government would continue to press the UK government to do more around marketing and advertising.

Shaun said: "It was good to be able to put our questions to Mr McMillan. I'm pleased to be able to take part in this kind of thing with The Salvation Army because I wouldn't be alive without their support over the years.

"I'm originally from Lincolnshire but now I've made a life for myself in Greenock. So much so that when my dad died in 2013 my mum moved up to live permanently. Now we both go to The Salvation Army's church service every Sunday."

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Gathering 2016

The Salvation Army will again have a stand at The Gathering, which is Scotland’s largest event for charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations. It will be on 17 and 18 February at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC), Glasgow, G3 8YW. Entry is free and it is open from 9am to 5pm each day. See more information at If you're interested in helping out on our stand contact us at

This year we will also be hosting an event on the Thursday at 1.30pm called 'A joined up alcohol strategy: research, practice and policy'. It will highlight our partnership with the University of Stirling in developing the next phase of our Scotland Drug and Alcohol Strategy. You can see more details and book a free place at

There are many other interesting free events you could attend during the two days listed at

Posters and leaflets are available to print from these links:

We hope to see some of you there!