Rev. Derek Lamont of St. Columba's Free Church and Moderator Designate, responds to the 2016 Scottish Church Census.
I sometimes think that the church’s response to declining numbers can be to panic – ‘change the message!’
Some would have us morph the Gospel into something different – more palatable to sophisticated, 21st Century ears! Cut out the bits that don’t fit! Give people something new, and bury that old rugged Cross.
The church in Scotland would do well to consider the recent findings about declining church attendances, but instead of being tempted to make excuses or think about re-inventing the Gospel we should wholeheartedly re-commit ourselves to introducing people to the life-giving and life transforming message of Jesus Christ. If He no longer matters to us, then He sure won’t matter to anyone outside of the Church. If we no longer believe He is relevant or offers His unique message of redeeming love to a cynical and broken world, then we will feel no compassion or love to introduce Him to others.
The Free Church has often been the object of mockery and derision in Scotland – a typecast parody – dull, black and negative - insular and judgemental. Doubtless there is much for which we need to be forgiven – but we have also fought hard over the last decade during which some of the current research has been done, to bring the unchanging, living and powerful message of the Gospel to a new generation. It is living truth from the Living God, so will always be contemporary, cutting edge and supremely relevant.
So, as a Church, we want to reach out with His love – it is tough because the authority and love of Christ challenges the genesis of so many of the core values of our secular society – it is about ultimate truth, human value, image, identity, guilt and forgiveness, life and death, hope and despair: the big issues.
Yet, we know the reality of Christ’s forgiveness and transforming power in our own lives – even if we are often a poor reflection of what we should be. We rejoice in the growth of some Scottish churches as well as seeing Christianity flourish in many parts of the world, despite it being the object, in some places, of the severest persecution.
We are thankful to see this growth but also thankful for the growth within the Free Church. We have welcomed new congregations, planted new churches, witnessed people coming to faith and our overall membership is following an upward trajectory.
There is no room for complacency but we know where our hope lies for the future of the church. We have absolute confidence that Jesus Christ will build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail.