"Scottish Church Decline is Not Inevitable"

An interdenominational Steering Committee consisting of representatives of all the major Christian denominations co-ordinated this comprehensive study in 2002.

All 4,144 local churches in Scotland were sent a Census form in April 2002, with Census Sunday being 12th May 2002. The forms asked for a range of information not previously asked in Scotland, especially about frequency of attendance and midweek activities. The response rate was 52%, and results for churches, which did not return forms, were estimated on the basis of other similar congregations.

The Census was undertaken by Dr Peter Brierley, Executive Director of Christian Research who undertook the 1984 and 1994 Scottish Church Censuses. Heather Wraight, Deputy Director of Christian Research, facilitated the Focus Groups.

Steering Committee members:

  • Rev Colin Sinclair, Church of Scotland, Chair
  • Rev David Black, Independent Churches
  • Rev Ann Bradley, Smaller Denominations
  • Ronnie Convery, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Glasgow
  • Rev Canon Bob Fyffe, Scottish Episcopal Church
  • Rev Douglas Hutcheon, Baptist Union of Scotland
  • Rev Ann Inglis, Church of Scotland
  • Peter Kearney, Director, Catholic Media Office
  • Gary Leach, Board of National Mission, Church of Scotland
  • Rev Douglas Nicol, Board of National Mission, Church of Scotland

EMBARGO 11am 15 May 2003
11.2% of the population of Scotland attend church on an average Sunday in 2002. This was significantly higher than the 7.5% who attended in England in 1998, and shows that Scotland still has a strong tradition of church going.

The results of the 2002 Scottish Church Census, released today, do show the expected decline in church attendance since the 1994 Church Census. However, there are some denominations, some parts of the country and certain groups in the population, which are doing better than might be expected.

Four of the smaller denominations have grown in the past eight years:

Baptists (24,800 - up 1%), Christian Brethren (18,200 - up 6%), Pentecostals
(10,100, up 11%) and the Salvation Army (7,000 - up 8%).

The percentage of churchgoers who are men has increased (37% of churchgoers in 1984, 40% in 2002) and there has been an actual growth of 1,000 attendees aged 65 and over. Churches with fewer lay leaders were more likely to be growing, suggesting that a smaller team is more able to make strategic decisions and to implement change. Churchgoing remained markedly higher in the Western Isles and Skye & Lochalsh where it was still nearly 40% of the population. Ten other councils had more than the average 11.2% attending on Sunday, of which the highest was Inverclyde with 17%.

This aspect of the Census results are encouraging, and show that decline in churchgoing in Scotland is not inevitable.

The two largest denominations, Church of Scotland and Roman Catholic, have many more churches and attendees than the smaller denominations, and so their decline offset the gains by others. The Church of Scotland declined 22% between 1994 and 2002, down to just under 230,000 Sunday attendees. Roman Catholic attendance declined 19% in the same period, to just over 200,000. Between them these denominations account for three-quarters of all Scottish churchgoers, Church of Scotland 40% and Catholic 35%.

Mid-week activities are an important part of church life in Scotland. Just over half of churches (56%) have regular midweek worship. Nearly half (47%) hold a regular youth activity during the week. This amounts to over 100,000 young people, only 14% of whom attend on a Sunday. Other midweek activities, such as Drop In Centres, Mothers & Toddlers, or Luncheon Clubs add a further 80,000. Adding together these people who come to church-run mid-week events gives a further 3.9% of the population who are in contact with the church on a regular basis making a weekly total of 15.1%. This Å’fringe' provides significant opportunities for churches.

If present trends continue the percentage of the population attending church on Sunday would drop to 8.7% by 2010 and 6.8% by 2020. However over half of church ministers and priests expect their church to grow significantly (20%) or grow a little (37%) by 2010. Another 22% expect to remain stable, 19% to have declined and 2% to have closed. If church leaders can put in place the visions and strategic plans necessary to turn that expectation into reality, church decline in Scotland would be halted.


Christian Research and the Church of Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Church Census Steering Committee publish Turning the Tide: The Challenge Ahead, the Report of the 2002 Scottish Church Census on 15th May. Price £9.99. From: Church of Scotland, 121 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4YN.

Contact: Peter Kearney (Catholic Media Office ­ 0141 221 1168)
Pat Holdgate (Church of Scotland Media Office ­ 0131 240 2243)

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