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a gospel ecosystem for the city

October 2, 2017

I live in Dundee, and I think it is a great city! I realise not everyone agrees but here are some reasons to celebrate the city…

we have a brilliant heritage. From this City great women and men of God have been brave enough to step out into ministry. From Mary Slessor to Murray M’Cheyne, there have been great stories which have resulted in many thousands of people being changed by the power of the gospel…

Today in the city there is a great social conscience, and there are many people doing great work among those disadvantaged. For example someone without the means to prepare a meal can find somewhere to go every day and be given a free meal. Funders like the Rank Foundation have targeted Dundee and fund some of the 200 plus initiatives across the City.

Now – just because I have said the city is great doesn’t mean all is perfect – we can do better!

Consider the numbers – Dundee has about 50 churches, and a couple of these are large and vibrant, others are struggling with a few elderly members doing all they can to keep things going. Most attract 50 or so people on a Sunday morning:

If we do the maths this gives us around 2,500 Dundonians who are active attenders of local churches. The population of the city is 148,270. So that is 1.7% at church on Sunday morning.

Our churches are the usual mix of denominations, mostly parish churches (Church of Scotland) which was established as distinct from the Church of England formed by splitting from the Catholics due to King Henry’s argument with the Pope about his marriage(s). We also have Episcopalians which is the Church of England in Scotland. And we have some of the original Catholics – established in Britain under Rome after the Synod of Whitby.

Then we have the Free Church of Scotland which split from the CoS because they didn’t want the local lairds to appoint the clergy; and the Pentecostal churches who were formed when the established churches didn’t welcome the move of the Holy Spirit, and the new charismatic churches who welcomed the Spirit in the 1960’s onwards- but weren’t Pentecostal enough to join them. and I mustn’t forget the Baptists, who broke away from the Catholics over how people are baptised, and the Methodists who formed when Wesley’s many working class converts were not welcomed in the CoE, and the Salvation Army for similar reasons:

So all of us are “gospel” churches, we all hold to the truths of the ancient creeds of the church, we all worship a trinitarian God, and celebrate the salvation won for us by Jesus on the cross… There is so much that unites us.

The trouble is that most of the good people of Dundee, 98.3% don’t get our differences – and are actually put off by our lack of being able to work together. To them none of these things matter – and they are not big enough things to fall out over!

So how do become relevant to all these people? The people that are supposed to do just that are our clergy – we have appointed them – (and all the churches reley on a model of having someone to lead and be in charge of the congregation) to speak for God to the people of the City. They are specially trained to be able to say wise things (although 98% of us simply aren’t listening to them!)

As churches we pay them, averaged out this costs our 50 churches somewhere around £1.2 million pounds each year. And so as active members of our churches we give [these days we don’t all manage a tithe or 10%] and this combined giving for our 50 churches is around £2 – 2.5M each year. Then we have to maintain the buildings we have,  50 very special places that have architectural and historic interest. We must spend at least £500,000 on these buildings to keep them warm and well lit and do the necessary maintenance. So actually there is precious little left to fund all of the other things that we want to do as vibrant churches.


more to follow…


  1. As above permalink
    October 2, 2017 10:21 am

    Thanks Dave. Interesting that you write about, and lots of us are part of, two ‘churches’ the Insitution(s) and the Church. These two are so intertwined and it’s painful and difficult to separate the two individual and corporately. Of course personally too especially as being in the ordained ministry.
    Pity Whitby took the wrong turn wold you agree?
    Keep scribing please.

    • October 2, 2017 4:10 pm

      Thanks Nick. I agree that the nature of this debate is very difficult. To change how we do chuurch will involve a great amount of graciousness of all of us who have earned our living from the church, and it will take a huge amount of unlearning to change from being institution(s) to a movement. But I will continue to provoke if I can, simply because this process is so necessary! – and pray, of course, that God’s kingdom will come. David

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