Church of Scotland could look to book of mammon

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland takes place next month. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland takes place next month. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THE Church of Scotland is to be asked to adopt strategies used by corporate giants such as Shell and BP to help plan for its uncertain future.

The Kirk is now looking at the corporate practice of scenario planning, in which a series of likely “futures” are formulated to allow the church to make contingency plans.

The proposal will be put forward by the Kirk’s think-tank, the Panel of Review and Reform, at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh next month.

The Rev Jack Holt, the vice convener of the panel who wrote the committee’s outline for the idea, said that the aim was to offer guidance for congregations and ministry.

“Last year we were looking at how the digital age was heading, and the thing that became clear to us is that you can’t predict the future any more. With the scenario planning, we’re offered alternative, possible futures, ones that are realistic but take account of ‘well, what happens if this doesn’t work or that does work,” he said.

“With all the uncertainty in the world, which is also the case for the church, we thought if we developed this we might give congregations a better sense of what they might have achieved and what could happen if ­certain things arise.

“We’re looking at it as tool for the church to think more about the future. The church is a very conservative body and it is slow to respond to change, and the world is changing very rapidly, so we’re just trying to find ways that might help the church to respond to the future.”

The church is already facing a series of intractable and ­potentially damaging problems: a membership that is both ageing and declining in numbers; pressing financial problems; a shortage of ministers; and a large number of old properties that are expensive to maintain.

The most pressing issue is the vote on the ordination of openly gay ministers due to take place at the General Assembly on 20 May. The subject has already divided the church, with some conservative congregations and ministers electing to leave ahead of the decision.

Mr Holt said that results of the vote would feed into any planning in terms of loss of congregation numbers or ministers, depending on its outcome.

The plans are at an early stage, but the Kirk is looking to work with Strathclyde University’s Centre for Scenario Planning ­department.

Dr George Burt, co-founder and managing director of the centre, said the approach could be hugely beneficial.

He added: “It offers a structured process to help people explore what’s inside their heads. It doesn’t matter whether it’s public or private, a company or institution.

“It crystalises their thoughts and ideas which gives them a platform to think about the choices and actions in future.”