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Scottish General Synod: Statistics

20 June 2014

THE only motion to be debated by the whole Synod came on the final morning of the meeting, and was brought by the diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney. Motion 13 proposed "That, recognising that our current annual statistical return does not measure the life and activity of our dioceses, Synod calls on the College of Bishops to devise a return which better reflects current patterns of support and activity."

Professor David Atkinson (Aberdeen & Orkney) said that the figures collected by the Church tended to show a steady downward progression, but these did not take into account Fresh Expressions, and many other manifestations of Church. "This is not the picture we have of practice, and so there is an imbalance between the numbers we collect and what we are experiencing," he said.

A new return would have three categories. First, an act of worship "would be recognisable as a church service, but might take place in a secular venue - a home or a church building. On these occasions, communion may be shared." Second, an evangelistic event or gathering would be one "where there is a clear invitation to an event where an aspect of the gospel is heard or discussed, and prayer is offered".

The third category would be training, "which includes worship and prayer as part of the format".

Such statistics would inform how the Church did its training, Professor Atkinson suggested.

Diocesan statistics on the current system of recording give total membership figures for 2012 as 34,916; communicant numbers as 24,650; and total attendance as 14,126. Speakers in the debate emphasised that these in no way illustrated what was happening on the ground. "We are not just a Sunday church any more - we are developing a diversity of ways of meeting. Growth is in these new patterns, and we need a new way of recording them," the Primus said.

The Revd Malcolm Round (Edinburgh) said that Sunday attendance was one of the true pictures. His church had 25 house groups, and multiple meetings every week. The figures in such churches could be massive, and the logistics would have to be thought through in those with big multi-services.

The Very Revd Richard Kilgour (Aberdeen & Orkney) said that the issue led into allocation of quota, "into a new, bold ethos of a whole-church view of things, wherever we can identify stakeholders in the life of the Church as a whole. . . This may be a really good opportunity for new thinking on who the stakeholders are who contribute to the stewardship which makes us who we are as the SEC."

The Revd Simon Mackenzie (Argyll & The Isles) said: "I can't record everything I do," and wondered if it might "become a form of boasting if we're not careful".

The retiring convener of the Communications Board, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, wondered how preaching online and broadcasting of worship could be recorded, and pleaded: "Don't increase the burden on local churches."

Matthew Pemble (Edinburgh) advised the Synod to think about what the statistics would be used for, before it decides on what is to be collected.

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