Open letter to my congregation!
What a privilege it is to minister alongside you!
I have great news to share with you! There are some 2.2 billion Christians in the world, roughly about a third of the world’s population. And in a country like China, where there were only 4 million Christians 80 years ago, there are now 67 million, and growing at a rate of about 7% per annum! So the worldwide Church is, as we say in Church circles, “in good heart”!
Now the bad news! In the Church of Scotland we have been in constant decline numerically for the last 60 years. In the last 10 years our membership has gone from half a million down to 336,000, losing on average about 15,000 members per annum. And you and I both know that not all members come along regularly and get actively involved in the life of the Church, so cut to the chase, we are in a spot of bother! To be honest, we are facing the final demise of the Church of Scotland as we presently know it. One of our elderly members said to me recently, “The young folk of today don’t come to Church anymore, so it’ll be the end when we go!” The number of ministers will also fall in the next 5 years from 932 to 611. In the sunny worldwide picture, that is the dark cloud that now hangs over us.
We now live in a secular Scotland and, like much of Europe, we have seen the decline of Christianity in our land. It is easy to say that folk are not interested anymore in the Christian faith and that is partly true, even though there is some evidence to suggest that many are interested in the Christian faith, just not in the way we serve it in the institution we know as the Church of Scotland. Is it not our task to make people interested in the Gospel again?
We have two choices. We can ignore this picture and continue decline until we fade away, or we can try, with God’s help, to do something about it. I’m going for the latter option and I challenge you to choose it too!
I am not telling you something that you don’t already know, deep in your heart. Look around you at Church, in worship and at various meetings, and we know that grey in the predominant colour. We cannot keep the show, as we know it, on the road for much longer. Can life come back to these dry bones? Yes it can! Not by a resurgence of the old ways, but by letting God’s Spirit breathe new life in new ways through his Church. What does that mean for us? It means radical change – if you thought a few new hymns was troubling, then you ain’t seen nothing yet! To our joint shame, the Church has been too slow to change these last 60 years – WE have been slow to change these last 60 years – this is our last wake up call before the snooze button gives up on us!
Radical change, what does that look like? In some places it is already starting, with new ways of Church emerging. It could mean you give up your Church building and join with other Churches nearby to share resources; it will mean looking at new ways in which you can connect with your community, an outward looking Church; it will mean letting go of old ways that are now out-dated. We are set in a weary-looking town centre, it will be different for Churches whether they are rural, city, town, or leafy suburb, but all will need to make sacrifices. To date, many have stubbornly refused to change, but they will have to. May God grant us all the courage to follow Jesus anew into the unknown. Whilst there is inevitably a measure of sadness at letting go the past, there is a greater measure of excitement as we seek to meet God’s challenge to us today!
What now? The General Assembly has asked it’s Council of Assembly to produce a three year radical plan that will hopefully strike at the heart of our structures to make them lean and fit for purpose; our Presbytery is tasked to be robust and imaginative in planning with Churches for the road ahead; and for local Churches like ours, we need to sit down, reflect and pray, and see what vision God has for us for the next three years and more!
Follow me…make disciples…do not be afraid…I will be with you…time for us all to get back to basics! It will be a different Church but are you willing to help re-build it?
Your friend and fellow minister,