Attendance in many Scottish churches has declined dramatically, according to a recent survey. But as Inverness Courier and Highland News reporter Val Sweeney discovered, congregations are growing where new approaches have been adopted.
In a converted fish processing factory on an Inverness industrial estate, the baristas are busy serving a varied array of coffees to a steady flow of morning customers.
But it isn’t only a sticky toffee latte and cake which is on the menu.
As well as serving sustenance for the body, the staff are also on hand to provide spiritual support to those seeking it.
The King’s Fellowship, an independent Christian church based in the Smithton Industrial Estate, prides itself as being in the community, for the community.
A recent census revealed that the number of people regularly attending church services in Scotland has dropped by more than half over the last 30 years.
While many traditional churches have suffered declines in congregation numbers that is not the experience of the King’s Fellowship, according to Chris Dowling who is co-pastor along with his wife, Sarah.
“The church is not dying,” said Mr Dowling who juggles his role in the church with that of working for the family glazing business, Cairngorm Windows. “The church is changing. I think the way we do church is probably different to the way it was 100 years ago.”
More than 300 people are actively involved with the King’s Fellowship while it also reaches out to hundreds more.
The versatile church building, The King’s Factory, hosts informal family-friendly Sunday services as well as a broad range of community activities.
They include a weekly job club, groups for mums and pre-school children, a community art group and parenting courses
Mr Dowling draws on the history of the city’s football scene as an analogy.
“I compare it to the Caley Thistle example,” he said.
“When Caley Thistle merged, they played at the ground in Telford Street and it was not fit for purpose. It was not family friendly. They didn’t have decent toilets.
“Caley Thistle built a brand new stadium to meet the needs of modern football.
“I see the church going down a similar road.
“The way people want to express their faith is not the same any more. Churches which are recognising that and changing, are seeing growth.
“You have to make faith relevent to today’s culture.”
The coffee house, for example, provides a means of connecting with the local community and providing a social gathering place.
In recent years, the church has also run money management courses devised by debt counselling charity, Christians Against Poverty.
“Being able to teach people the skills to budget and stay out of debt is one thing,” Mr Dowling said. “One of the important ways to help people stay out of debt is to help them get employment.”
To that end, the church runs the weekly Smithton and Culloden Work Club in partnership with Highland Council.
It has also delivered courses to hundreds of pupils in local schools to help improve their employment prospects.
Mr Dowling, a father of two, leads the Sunday services featuring contemporary music, visual elements and sermons covering topics such as relationship challenges or dealing with stress.
“I think churches have to embrace the fact the world is changing and people are still open to faith but are disconnected with the old way of ‘doing’ church,” he reflected. “Everything here is very relaxed. You don’t have to wear Sunday best.”
He felt many parents wanted their children to know about faith but worried about taking them to an old-style service.
“We try to find a balance,” he said.
“We have an area where kids can come in and be at the front.
“Now and again, it gets a bit chaotic but I would rather lean to that than the other way. I remember being told off as a young lad for drawing pictures during a sermon but that was the culture back then.
“If church is supposed to represent family, it is supposed to be accessible for every age group.”