The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Free Church of Scotland Moderator David Robertson analyses low numbers of church attendants. “There are great opportunities for the gospel, many people think they have rejected Christianity but they haven't a clue what it is.”
A recent study gives a glimpse of the spiritual state of Scotland.
The official survey found that less than half of the population is “religious.” Only 20% identify with the Church of Scotland (historic Protestante church), a number that has fallen from 35% in 1999.
The category “other Christians”, which includes members of free evangelical churches, has remained steady at 11%.
David Robertson, Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, analysed this trends responding to questions of Evangelical Focus.
Question. Has Scotland been traditionally a more "religious" country than the rest of Britain?
Answer. There was a time when we would have considered Scotland to have been a more Christian country, and to have undergone a more thorough Reformation than England. But that is certainly not the case today.
The south-east of England, and the London area are probably far stronger in church terms than any other area of the United Kingdom with the exception of Northern Ireland or the Western Isles of Scotland.
Q. The study shows the Church of Scotland hits a new low: only 20% of population identifies with it. From your perspective, what are the causes of this?
A. In reality, less than 5% of the population actually attends any church of Scotland. There are many different and complex reasons for this, but I would argue that the main one is that the church overall has turned away from the word of God.
It is a broad church in which there are some fine evangelicals, but the vast majority have lost their way.
There is a famine of hearing the word of the Lord in Scotland. Which is doubly sad because Scotland was once known as the land of the people of the book!
Q. Many participants in the survey do not even mentioning a ‘default’ religious identity. This puts Scotland in the line of Eastern Europe and some Southern countries. Is the fact that people know nothing about the basic Christian beliefs a problem or an opportunity for the gospel?
A. There are great opportunities for the gospel. The fact is that many people think they have rejected Christianity but they haven't a clue what it is.
Therefore when they are presented with the gospel, the Bible stories and Christian teaching for the first time it can come as quite a shock and it can also be very attractive.
Q. The study says there are 11% of "other Christians". What are the numbers of free evangelical Christians in Scotland? Are they growing?
A. The 11% includes Anglicans, a small number of Methodists, Baptists, charismatics, independent evangelicals and the smaller Presbyterian denominations, including my own, the Free Church of Scotland.
As a denomination we are growing for a variety of reasons. These include a new emphasis on evangelism, a number of younger men coming into the ministry, new churches in urban areas, and disillusioned Church of Scotland members joining us. We have grown about 50% in the past 10 years. It looks as though this growth is accelerating. We value prayer.