Other than statistics regularly collected by the various Christian denominations, there is only limited national data about religion in Scotland in very recent years. One has to go back to sources such as the 2001 civil census, the religion module in the 2001 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, and the census of churchgoing by Christian Research in 2002.
It is, therefore, good to note some more contemporaneous, albeit more localized, evidence in the shape of a 37-page report on the Church of Scotland Dunfermline Presbytery Community Survey, undertaken earlier this year by Rev Allan Vint, the Presbytery’s Mission Development Officer. This is available to download at:
The survey was primarily designed for internal Kirk purposes, to give the Dunfermline Presbytery ‘insight’ into the factors which underlie the seemingly relentless decline in Church of Scotland membership and attendance, and ‘discernment and wisdom’ to help develop future missiological strategy. Vint has previously carried out two censuses of attendance in the Presbytery.
The community survey was conducted on a limited budget and through a hybrid methodology, which will raise some doubts about the representativeness of the three achieved samples of adults, primary school pupils and young people who completed an online or paper questionnaire.
The questions asked covered: spare-time activities, religious affiliation, attributes of a Christian, level of Christian commitment, belief in God, image of God, perception of Jesus Christ, idea of heaven, religious experience, churchgoing and reasons for it, attitudes to church services, and previous Sunday school attendance.
Particular difficulties were encountered by the researcher in reaching teenagers (who constitute a mere 3% of the Presbytery’s worshippers). Only 131 young people replied to the survey. Anybody requiring information about the attitudes to religion and the Church of Scots aged 12-17 would be advised to gain access to the Ipsos MORI study conducted for the Church of Scotland in 2008 (see http://www.brin.ac.uk/sources/1011).
Perhaps the most interesting section of the Dunfermline report relates to the replies from 358 adults. This highlights some notable differences between sub-samples of regular (monthly or more) and irregular or non-attenders at church (of whom 69% identified as Christian, although only 11% regarded themselves as strongly committed to the faith and no more than 50% believed in God).
Especially striking differences emerged with regard to the definition of a Christian. Whereas 89% of regular churchgoers prioritized knowing Jesus as personal saviour, just 31% of irregular or non-attenders attached importance to this. The latter were far more likely than the former (63% versus 34%) to see faith in terms of leading a good life. They also attached much less significance to belief in God, belief in the truth of the Bible, being baptized and attending services. This – in effect – interchangeability of religion with ethics has been a long-standing feature of popular beliefs.