Statistics, Planning and the Mission of the Church of Scotland

Welcome to these pages which are based on my PhD submission in 2017 to Glasgow University.  I wrote this work over a period of 6 years as a part-time student and full-time minister of the Church of Scotland.  I am indebted to many individuals and institutions for their help, support and encouragement over that period, though I must give special recognition to my academic supervisor Rev Dr Doug Gay for his guidance and inspiration.

PhDs are highly focused and it is well worth remembering in reading this work that there is much more to planning and mission within the Church of Scotland (and elsewhere) than mere statistics, but I hope this individual contribution is found to be helpful as the Church of Scotland grapples with these important issues.

If you find the ideas or recommendations helpful or wish to comment about any aspect of the thesis then you can contact me via email on 

Grace and Peace

Allan Vint

Original Abstract

This thesis examines the role and importance of numerical data for the Church of Scotland in relation to areas of mission and planning at a time when the Church of Scotland has experienced sustained numerical decline in formal membership and in church attendance.

Within the various chapters of this work, the historical connection of the national church with numerical information is charted, detailing the long association it has had with the gathering and assessment of statistical data.  The role of data as a valid component within an understanding of practical theology is discussed as is the connection between mission and measurement through an assessment of ‘data rich’ missiological schemes, including the Church Growth Movement, Healthy Church and the Natural Church Development Process.

Three significant surveys of Church of Scotland leaders examine whether the national Census of 2011 and other statistical information was considered useful to local clergy for strategic purposes.  Ministers were surveyed about their use of data prior to and following the release of the 2011 census data.  They were subsequently surveyed following distribution of initial data from the Scottish Churches Census of 2016.  This study therefore provides essential insights into the use made and the value held by ministers of data of this nature.  The analysis carried out encourages the Church of Scotland nationally to further develop and enhance data provision for the benefit of their leaders.

The response of the Church of Scotland to numerical decline has been to engage in an exercise of managed organisational planning in partnership with presbyteries.  This thesis includes a critical examination of presbytery planning by the Church of Scotland and an attempt by one presbytery to utilise quantitative data as its key determinant for ministry allocation.  The case studies undertaken identify a range of issues, some being attitudinal in nature and others, practical.  An additional case study provided insight into the extent to which strategic information was available within a local congregational setting and the part it played in local decision making.

The practical nature of this thesis is evidenced in a wide-ranging list of recommendations offered to the Church of Scotland towards the creation of a new organisational framework for dealing with data, new training offered to church leaders and the enhanced provision of data for use in planning and mission - nationally, regionally and locally.

Chapter 1