At the beginning of September I gathered along with nearly 500 church leaders at five cities throughout Scotland to hear the results of Transforming Scotland: The State of Christianity, Faith and the Church in Scotland.
For me, one of the most encouraging things was seeing church leaders of many different denominations turn out in great numbers. A main focus of the Transforming Scotland report is to identify key “drivers” that are enabling churches in Scotland to grow. It is surely a good thing that so many leaders in Scotland are concerned and interested in growing the church in this nation!
Some positive news
The presentation of the report itself began with some positive good news about perceptions of the church in Scotland – a stand out statistic for me is that seven out of ten adults believe a church is a favourable thing for a community. A question I always ask when meeting with church leaders is, “What is the best thing that God is doing in your church?” Leadership can be hard, and it is easy to focus on the difficulties and the disappointments, but it is always beneficial to take time to celebrate those places where God’s light and life are breaking through! This spirit of celebration was very much at the fore in the five different venues, as church leaders gained encouragement from the many pieces of good news that the report contained.
One of the most fascinating findings of the report concerned “Millennials”. “Millennials” is apparently marketing speak for people born between the early 1980’s and early 2000’s (the report particularly focused on those aged 18-30). Transforming Scotland revealed clear evidence of openness to the gospel in this age group. While this was a revelation for many who attended, others were very well aware of this trend. I spoke with one church planter based in Aberdeen who has a church entirely made up of Millennials. His experience very much confirmed the results. Moreover, he testified to the appetite that Millennials have for understanding how the Bible applies to life: in the past year his entire church has gone through a 10-week course looking at what it means to follow Christ today in every aspect of life, as well as reading through the entire New Testament using the Community Bible Experience by Biblica. Another pastor, who has extensive experience working with students, confirmed that he had seen this increasing openness to the gospel amongst younger people emerge during his ministry.
Reflection on Scripture
It was particularly encouraging that the research identified the Bible as a key driver of spiritual growth in Scotland. A 2007 study in the United States concluded the same. It discovered that, no matter what stage of Christian discipleship someone is at, reflection on scripture was by far the most important factor in enabling spiritual growth1. Every day at the Scottish Bible Society we hear stories from around the world about the Bible changing lives, and it is wonderful to see statistics (as well as hear stories!) about God doing the same thing here.
As folk left the events there was a great sense of energy and enthusiasm – as well as evidence of the beginning of the important work of critical analysis of what had been heard! One picture that will remain with me is that of so many leaders coming into the venues and engaging so positively with the results. But the other image that will stay with me is that of leaders spilling out the doors and returning to live, serve and worship in the various cities, towns and streets from where they had come. And it is that picture – a movement from reflection to action – which will fuel my prayers. For me, Transforming Scotland was a glimpse into some of the work that God is doing in our nation, as well as a vision of a growing church. My prayer is that this important research does not remain in heads and on shelves, but rather that it will lead the church to action, taking the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ afresh to our nation, that Scotland might truly be Transformed through Christ.
Head of Bible Engagement
1Reveal: Where are You? Greg Hawkins and Sally Parkinson, Willow Creek Association, 2007.
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