It suddenly dawned on me that May was coming round, and for most of the past 8 years that meant there would be some kind of trouble and rumpus regarding the Church of Scotland annual General Assembly. It’s actually a great joy to be able to put all that behind us now. Indeed, Phillip Jensen very helpfully urged us to stop looking over our shoulders and not let the persecution of the past control us (my paraphrase). But I’m afraid I still couldn’t resist wondering what was happening and whether the ‘Kirk’ was actually declining and falling into obscurity as rapidly as we expected it to do so.
So I had a glance through the latest reports and statistics and tried to piece them together when I found that someone (David Robertson of course) had already done a much better job. And indeed it was surprising (and yet it must be said vindicating) to see that not only do the official Kirk membership statistics show continued decline in membership, it is accelerating. And at the same time there’s a predictable defensive reaction from the official spokesmen amounting to ‘this ship is unsinkable’ which fails to face up to reality. (For me, the unreality of the response is even more stark as I write this from Nigeria. Here the church is actually genuinely growing in numbers day by day, new churches are being planted all the time and that amid persecution from terrorists loyal to another god. Don’t get me wrong, we have a great many problems too.)
But Phillip Jensen is right; we don’t need to look back. We thank God that since we as the Tron Church left the Kirk and had the privilege of being dispossessed of our property, God has blessed us with real growth in knowing him and in mission and also in numbers and diversity. And it’s a privilege for us to be sent out and supported by such a precious group of God’s people to very forward-looking mission here in Nigeria.
ps. What do we mean by acceleration: Over 10 years 2004-2014 membership fell about 28%, i.e. about 3.3% a year. Over the last year it fell over 4%. That’s acceleration in percentage terms, or possibly just a steady number leaving. And it seems the official membership is actually contracting slower than the leadership (ministers), so is the more positive figure. If see an accelerating percentage or a fixed number voting with their feet (or just popping their clogs and not being replaced by natural growth) then it would suggest to my calculations that we should reach Kirk Zero by 2037.