In the heart of the Scottish Highlands, a group of ministers from around the country gathered at Smithton Church, a long-established church plant in Inverness, to discuss Church Development and the challenges of revitalisation.
Board of Trustees chair James Fraser led the morning session where he discussed his experience of a congregation moving from decline to growth and how intentionally implemented strategies helped to gradually focus the local church's mind on reaching out and moving forward.
Discussing the initial challenges the church faced James said, "We had to get away from a mentality of decline, from looking back at the 'good old days', and address the problems we faced head-on."
James also offered some thoughts on changing local public perception of the congregation, "A simple example is to look at the building in which we met. We know the church is not the building but our buildings are not unimportant, an upgraded or refurbished building can signal to the local community there are signs of life, signs of renewal, signs of direction."
The Revitalisation Group is facilitated by Mission Director David Meredith.
Commenting on the difficulties and challenges of developing struggling congregations David said, "In the Scottish scene we clearly have a mammoth revitalisation task as some of our churches have declined in numbers and in spirit."
"We are often called to close down some churches and reallocate resources elsewhere. If a church is closed down that is not a disaster, it simply means that the resources can be allocated elsewhere. I hope that I’m not being over-optimistic when I say that very few churches are beyond the capacity to be revitalised."
In the afternoon David Robertson, minister of St Peter's Dundee, led a session with the group on Vision.
"I visited Harris recently and I believe there are lessons we can learn from the success of the Harris Distillery."
"They had a vision for a distillery which would employ local people in an area that desperately needed real permanent jobs. They invested in that vision and they took their time. So far they have managed to employ 33 people – they have trained up local people and they are beginning to produce their product and see the rewards for their labours."
"Even though they are still three years away from having their first whisky sold, they are selling a great deal of gin – and through clever marketing and establishing a reputation for quality – they have people beating a path to their door."
"They had, and have, vision, patience, investment, leadership, time, quality, training and people."
"If a distillery can get people on board with a gin vision surely we can get people on board with a vision of Jesus?"
"We want everyone who comes to our churches to know the palpable sense of Jesus."