Encouragement sometimes comes from the most unexpected places.

A recently published survey by the Humanist Society of Scotland is full of encouraging statistics about faith and belief. I’m sure that’s not what was intended when the research was commissioned! 

Take the headline statistic: “Most people in Scotland (59%) identify as non-religious”.

The 2016 Scottish Household Survey had this figure as 51.5%. So, on the face of it, there is a further decline in the number of people in Scotland who identify as religious. But looking into the detailed tables of the Scottish Humanist research, an interesting figure pops out: 37.2% of Scots would say they were Christian. Compare that to the Scottish Household Survey in 2016: 31.8%. So according to their own research, Scotland is increasingly Christian! 

What about church attendance?

According to the Humanist Society of Scotland’s research, 12% of Scots adults attend church at least once a week (outside of special occasions like weddings, funerals, baptisms and so on).

That’s around 525,000 people. According to the last Scottish Church Census in 2016, the number of people attending church in Scotland each week was 390,000. In fact, according to the Humanist Society Research, 24.4% of Scots adults attended church at least once in a year – well over a million people.  

For the church, this highlights an extraordinary opportunity.

Each year, somewhere between 500-600,000 people come into our churches, who don’t regularly attend.  

According to the Humanist Society of Scotland research, 56.5% of Scots adults were raised as Christians.  This Christian heritage continues to have a significant impact on what people believe, as demonstrated by many of the survey results.

Here are the stats.

  • 35.1% of Scots believe in God (interestingly only 32% were willing to say they didn’t believe in God, with a further 26.4% saying they were not sure). 
  • 34.2% of Scots believe in life after death. 
  • 33% of Scots believe in heaven and 20.4% believe in hell.  
  • 21.5% of Scots believe in divine miracles from God.  
  • 28.8% of Scots believe in angels while 24.7% believe in demons/evil spirits.  
  • 18.1% of Scots believe that there will be a judgement day where God will punish some and reward others. 
  • 20.8% of Scots say that they pray at least once a week, while 30.2% say they pray at least once a year. A further 16.7% say they pray, but hardly ever, meaning only 53.1% say they never pray.  

Taking the lowest point in all of these stats, at least one in five Scots believe in God, life after death, miracles, angels and demons, and judgement. But it is the statistics on prayer – the act of talking to God – that are truly amazing, with one in five Scots praying at least once a week.  

And what about younger people, who we are consistently told are far less interested in Christianity?

Of those aged 18-24, 10.9% attend church weekly, 20.9% attend church at least annually, with 31.6% raised as Christians and 16.6% praying weekly (31.7% – almost a third – pray at least once a year). In terms of their beliefs, 28.2% believe in God. Astonishingly, 9.5% – one in ten – of this age group say they didn’t used to believe in God, but they do now – double the percentage of any age group, suggesting that the biggest growth in faith is coming from this age group. An incredible 46% of this age group believe in life after death, 39% believe in heaven, 31% believe in hell, 19% believe in divine miracles by God, 36% believe in angels, 42.2% in demons/evil spirits, 23.2% in a judgement day by God. Across the board, Scots young people show a higher percentage of belief.  

All of these beliefs are Biblical and accord with Christian theology.

What can we take away from all this?

Overall, there is much encouragement to be taken from this survey by the Humanist Society of Scotland: more people attending church than we think, more people praying regularly than we think, and more people believing in a range of Christian beliefs. Moreover, the young people – so often said to be absent from or leaving our churches – are leading the way.  

The picture is not the one the Humanists would have us believe – of a nation turning away from God and uninterested in faith. Rather, the portrait is of a nation where a great many people believe many elements of Christian belief and are therefore open to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

It is therefore also a picture of national opportunity. Where do these beliefs come from? They are grounded in scripture, and one of the best way to make the most of this widespread interest in Christian faith, is through reading the Bible.

With a great many of these people not in church, the Bible will have to go to them. With Christmas approaching, it is surely a great national moment for all churches in Scotland to consider a gospel distribution, that seeks to connect these widely held beliefs with the gospel of Jesus Christ.