Church of Scotland ‘struggling to stay alive’

KIRK membership has fallen by almost 50,000 in the past three years to below 400,000 for the first time in its history, according to new figures.

With congregations ageing, church membership is falling. Picture: Donald MacLeod

The statistics, due to come before the Church’s General Assembly next month, have led to claims that the Kirk is “struggling to stay relevant”.

Issues such as the ordination of gay ministers and a row over same-sex marriage have been blamed in part for members departing – though the Kirk has insisted that both demographic and societal changes were more significant drivers than any single issue.

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The Legal Questions Committee report states that there were 398,389 members as of 31 December last year, down from 445,646 in 2010. The single biggest factor in the drop has been deaths, which averaged more than 11,100 over the past six years,

Gary Otten, founder of the Scottish Secular Society, said the fall in numbers showed that the Kirk was no longer a central part of modern society: “The Church of Scotland is disengaging itself from society at large. It is struggling to stay relevant and alive.”

George Whyte, Acting Principal Clerk of the Kirk, said: “The Church of Scotland is naturally disappointed that in the last year the number of official members has dropped by 3 per cent.

“However, with almost 400,000 members, the Church remains one of the largest membership organisations in Scotland.

“Many more people take part in church life but are not on the formal roll.

“The government census last year revealed almost a third of the population, 1.7 million, identify with the Church of Scotland.”