THE Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has challenged the Kirk to find 100,000 new members by 2025.
In a radical New Year’s message for Life and Work magazine, the Rt Rev John Chalmers also called on the Kirk to redefine membership to reflect a growing online audience.
The official membership is about 400,000, but the Kirk has suffered from declining numbers in recent decades, as older members die and too few new members join. However, issues such as the ordination of gay ministers and a row over same-sex marriage have also been blamed for the decline.
Membership has dropped by almost 50,000 in the past three years, more than 320 a week, figures released in April showed. This led to claims the Kirk was “struggling to stay relevant”.
But Mr Chalmers said he was “fed up” with statistics that highlighted decline, claiming the “truth about the number of people who belong to our faith communities is quite different”.
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Referring to the 1.7 million Scots who, according to the 2011 Census, associated themselves with the Kirk, he said: “There’s a reservoir there of people who already regard themselves as part of our community.”
He said to bring 100,000 new members would have serious tangible benefits for the Kirk.
“That kind of renewal would bring with it all the new ministers the Church of Scotland would ever need and, of course, we would have to make membership recruitment an ongoing priority. The Church has constantly to renew itself,” he said.
“Here, however, is the real challenge – it is to redefine membership in a way that allows us to include women and men, young and old, who do not fit the post-Second World War model of membership with which we are so familiar.”
Mr Chalmers said Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh has a regular attendance of 200 and more than 300 members, but there were more than 500 involved through its outreach projects.
“We need to think of how we re-define membership so that they are included in our community,” he said.
“There are lots of people with whom we could stay in touch, and draw them in to being a greater part of the community and fellowship of the church.”
He said social media had almost overtaken the Kirk but that, by embracing texting, Facebook and other social media, people who sit “fairly lightly” with the Kirk could be drawn in.
Former Moderator, the Very Rev Albert Bogle, minister of St Andrew’s Parish Church, who runs the Sanctuary First website, said 100,000 new members “was not impossible”. He added: “There are a huge number out there who need to be nurtured and strengthened in their faith.”
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