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 (http://www.brf.org.uk/messychurch).
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!