With congregations in traditional churches dwindling, newer congregations are springing up. With a more informal approach to services, they are attracting followers, as Val Sweeney discovers.
THEY describe themselves on their website as a “lively bunch of folks who practice a simple church and missional lifestyle”. The Inverness Community Church is among the “newer” churches springing up in the city. Led by computer software consultant Mark Hadfield and his wife, Sue, a town planner, its members are often to be found working with others on the city’s streets, while worship takes place in local pubs, coffee shops and in various homes.
The church has also been influential in the development of the Street Pastors — a team of volunteers from various churches who go out at weekends offering support and care to people in the city centre late at night and in the early hours.
Along with other churches such as City Life Church, which meets at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel, and the Inverness Bible Fellowship, based at the former Clach Social Club, it offers a more informal style approach to worship.
This upsurge in the number of new churches, at a time when numbers in many long-established congregations have been dwindling, has prompted a study by the Reverend Jim Robertson of Culloden Barn Church.
Having spoken with their leaders who filled in questionnaires, Rev Robertson has profiled 11 “new” churches in Inverness along with some of his own observations and questions.
“The aim I have is to produce and circulate a report that will encourage more transparent and positive relationships across the Inverness churches family,” he says.
“Meeting with the leaders of these ‘newer’ churches in Inverness has been enjoyable and stimulating.
“I especially want to share my report with churches at the more institutional end of the ecclesiastical spectrum where I belong — and invite reflection on our own strengths with humility, and on our own weakness with realism.
“Speaking to each other in the wider Inverness churches family without being too inhibited by our own narrower ‘new’ or ‘old’ church agendas can only be a blessing.”
He acknowledges that he has only touched on a small segment of church life and that there are significant numbers of other, less-institutional fellowships which also deserve attention. At the same time, he says it is important to note that there are also significant “older”, more institutional congregations which are thriving, adventurous, growing and investing in new buildings.
Mark Hadfield, of the Inverness Community Church, believes that both the newer and more traditional churches can coexist quite easily in the city.
“I believe in the diversity of the church,” he says. “I don’t think one is particularly right or wrong.”
He and his wife felt called to move from Manchester to Inverness after attending a wedding of friends in Dingwall in 1996. Initially they were members of the Inverness Covenant Life Church, which disbanded in 1999.
The couple became the informal pastors of a core group which continued and was subsequently renamed as the Inverness Community Church. “We have grown very informally,” he said. “We have not had a specific venue.”
Instead, they can often be found offering healing in the city streets, as Mr Hadfield explains: “Getting out to people and helping them — that is our main focus. We do meet in homes and coffee shops and do the kind of stuff you would see in other church services — reading the bible, praying and singing songs. But it is not a service kind of format, it is more inclusive.”
He also points out that he occasionally preaches at more traditional churches, which he feels can also inspire the newer churches. He acknowledges that the growth of the Inverness Community Church is not what he would call “explosive” but maintains this is not the main aim. “It is identifying people’s needs and living the way Jesus asked us. Our main focus is helping people at the point of need,” he says.
Occasionally they are heckled, but Mr Hadfield says: “I tend to find most people who might appear to be heckling have some serious questions they want to talk through. What happens initially on the surface is not necessarily what they are feeling.
“I find a lot of people really love it when you offer to pray with them. There is a great openness — you are giving something of yourself when you offer to pray with them.”
Another “newer” arrival in the city’s ecclesiastical world is the City Life Church — a Christian Outreach Centre with a presence in 40 countries — whose members meet on Sundays at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel in Church Street.
It has big plans to serve the community in Inverness but finds it is limited by the lack of a permanent base. However, it is pressing ahead with the purchase of the former St Columba High Church building in Bank Street, in the hope of expanding its work with children, young people and families and launching new projects in areas such as creative arts and music.
Pastors Owen and Kate Morris, who moved to Inverness in July 2003, have a desire “to see people set free by the power of God and equipped to live victoriously in every area of life”.
Mrs Morris believes that both the newer and traditional churches can coexist. “We are very happy to work alongside other churches,” she says. “There is a great diversity of Christians out there. Maybe we have the same message but different ways of presenting it. We possibly have a livelier style of worship. It comes down to being heartfelt about what you believe and can do — whether it is a new style or an older style.”
Facts and figures from Rev Jim Robertson’s report.
The Church of Scotland has been the established church in Scotland for well over 300 years.
The average life of the profiled 11 new churches in Inverness is eight years.
Average number at worship (excluding the 250 at Kings Factory Church) is 42.
The Church of Scotland has 1000 ministers and a paper membership of 500,000.
In 2010, congregations in Scotland gave £42,000,000 for ministers and mission.
Nationally, the Church of Scotland is contracting and cutting jobs. Inverness Presbytery is required to cut four paid ministry posts.