Church of Scotland General Assembly 2022: Kirk invests £25m to grow new and existing congregations

Church of Scotland membership has fallen by more than a third in just a decade and the data shows no sign of the trend changing, according to a report to the General Assembly.

But despite drastic measures already under way across the country to merge congregations due to a shortage of ministers and falling income, the Kirk is to launch a new fund, making available £20 to 25 million over the next seven years for projects aimed at growing local churches and creating new congregations.

A report from the Assembly Trustees, which oversees Kirk finances, said the income of congregations, badly affected by Covid, would not recover to pre-pandemic levels this year or next and beyond that it was difficult to forecast. The continued decline in church membership was one factor. "A 34 per cent reduction was seen between 2011 and 2021, with no indication of this trend reversing from 2021 congregational data," said the report.

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The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, convener of the Assembly Trustees, underlined the situation facing the Kirk, saying: "In my lifetime we have gone from a church of 1.3 million members to fewer than 300,000. Our contact with children and our reach to millennials and Generation Z are marginal. These missing generations are our children and our children's children.

"They are not without a desire for spiritual nourishment. They are still in search for meaning and they share many of our values. But all evidence suggests the ways in which these generations will pursue their search for meaning will not be through a top-heavy religious institution.”

Dr Chalmers said the Kirk had to find new ways of being the church which were accessible, relevant and real. He said: “We must invest seriously in new ventures, pioneer ministry and church planting.”

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He said the new Seeds for Growth fund, to be launched in October, would fund projects aimed at growing the local church, with a special emphasis on evangelism and the creation and planting of new congregations.

Dr Chalmers said: "The time has come for us to cast our bread upon the water before the last one of us finds it is time to switch off the lights and redistribute what is left to other charities with similar aims."

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This year's General Assembly is a hybrid gathering with 400 commissioners in the hall and another 200 taking part online. Picture: Andrew O'Brien.

Meanwhile, amid the cost-of-living crisis, the Assembly voted in favour of a call for the church to set up a scheme to support parish ministers who find themselves in hardship because of the cost of heating and electricity

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The Rev Bryan Kerr, from Forth Valley and Clydesdale presbytery, said some ministers were in "abject fear" over their fuel bills. Although living in manses, ministers had to meet all utility costs from their stipends. While some manses were modern, others were old and hard to heat and ministers had no control over upgrading or insulation.

Mr Kerr told the Assembly: "I've spoken with ministers who are considering whether they can continue to afford to live in the manse and therefore continue to be a parish minister.”

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And the Rev Iain Machjer from Bothwell said: "This winter fills me with fear and the realisation hard decisions will have to be made by us as a family."

The Assembly voted 227 to 122 in favour of a support scheme.

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