Satisfied with statistics?

How do you feel when you become a statistic? Would you rather be part of, or separate from, the crowd?

Some recent statistics suggested a decline in those who identify themselves as ‘religious’. The research, commissioned by the Humanist Society of Scotland, asked 1,016 Scottish adults if they were religious or not. 24% said they were; 72% said they were not. I’m not sure about the other 4 per cent, but I’d be interested to know how they answered! You can find the Herald Article here , including some interesting insight offered by the Church of Scotland’s convener of Mission and Discipleship – and fellow Edinburgh Minister – Norman Smith. The BBC article further quotes Rev Smith.

When I first read this article I was still adding the finishing touches to my Sunday Morning Message so a passing reference to it made a late entry – there is a recording here: *I’ve just used 3 hyperlinks in less than 100 words of text – I promise I will go easy on them now!

As a church, we have been looking at a letter in the Bible that a Man called Paul wrote to a Church in Philippi. The letter shows how things often looked bleak for the church and individuals such as Paul but in spite of that news about Jesus was still spreading and flourishing. With this outlook, when I look at statistics like those above I am not particularly put off – if anything, quite the opposite.

Whether you look at the statistics from a faith perspective or not, I think it is important that we do examine them with a critical eye. With this in mind, here are some of my passing thoughts – in no particular order.

  1. The number polled is pretty low. The parish where I am minister, which is comparatively small, had 5,648 people in the 2011 census for example.
  2. Describing one’s religious affiliation or otherwise is notoriously hard. Someone who comes to church every Sunday might not say they are ‘religious’. In fact, I have reservations about labelling myself in this way. I much prefer to talk about faith.
  3. Asking someone if they are religious or not is a closed question. Isn’t it? 😉
  4. My experience from engaging with people from many backgrounds is that we are often on a journey. Some have had faith and drifted, some are discovering faith, while others have never taken time to reflect on it. This is not an exhaustive list of discriptions. I wonder how you would describe your journey? Would the word ‘religious’ feature in it?
  5. My perspective is that 100% of people have a spiritual need. The Church can help with that spiritual need – no matter how someone identifies themselves.

Whatever the statistics record, I can honestly say that I am not fussed. I would much rather get on with the task of helping people, engaging with them and sharing with them and by this; putting the love of Jesus into action. Here is my last hyperlink(!) – it’s something Jesus said about serving people.

Stuart Irvin