Listening Project initial findings reflect a changing Kirk

The initial findings from the Church of Scotland’s recent Listening Project survey show people across the Kirk are keenly “reflecting on what Church is about and how it should be changing” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Church of Scotland's Listening Project

The project sought to garner the views of people aged 16 and older throughout the Church about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, in order to listen and share what we have learnt about faith and church from this difficult and challenging year.

Some headline results from the report are being published now ahead of the full report being launched later in June. They include a few surprises along with some more expected findings.

The voices we hear from reflect on everything from the impact of technology to how faith has sustained some and been hard for others to maintain. Some voice a new and expanded vision for the Church, while others are dealing with disappointment.

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, Chair of the Assembly Trustees welcomed the report saying, “It really is a privilege to hear these voices from across the Church and that comes with a responsibility to respect the unique view of each person and to consider these insights prayerfully”.

“I hope that those who read these headlines will be inspired to reflect on their own experiences of this challenging year and, crucially, what might be learned.”

‘A huge privilege’

Dr Steve Aisthorpe, who is co-ordinating the Listening Project, has found the process a “vital” way of listening and learning together as a Church.

“Listening to the experiences and insights of such a wide range of people has been a huge privilege.

“The discoveries about technology - how it has enabled many people to connect with one another, made geographical distance less important, but also led to some being excluded – will not be a surprise to many.

“Perhaps less expected though is the number of people who report how the impacts of the pandemic have caused them to reflect on what church is about and consider how it should be changing.

“The headlines that are being released today are some of the most prominent themes. It is vital that we hear these and use the questions at the end of the report to stimulate our own reflections.

“Over the coming weeks we will be undertaking more detailed analysis and a full report, due in June, promises to shed light on some of the complexity behind these headlines as well as exploring some of the more unusual findings.”

What do the headlines say?

You can read the 12-page headlines report, including anonymous comments on each headline here, and a brief summary of them below:

  • A sense of loss
    An almost universal theme across participants’ experiences of faith and church during the pandemic is a sense of ‘loss’.
  • Constant or deepening faith
    And yet, in articulating this sense of loss, many participants in the Listening Project explained how their personal Christian faith has either remained strong or deepened during (or because of) the challenges of the pandemic.
  • Faith as a source of resilience
    As well as finding faith to be resilient, many spoke of how their faith had been a source of strength for them.
  • Faith being challenged
    While many people spoke of their faith as a constant (or being deepened) and a support during this time, there were some who found their faith challenged, diminished or undermined.
  • Technology: the wonders and the shortcomings
    Another almost universal topic within the accounts of those who took part in the Listening Project is the role of technology during the pandemic. For many it has enabled connection. For some it has been a means of creativity. For some it has been a source of frustration or exclusion.
  • Flexibility, creativity and innovation
    While technology has, for some individuals and congregations, been a means of adaptation and creativity, many participants spoke of the importance of flexibility, creativity and innovation more generally too; others expressed disappointment at the lack of these qualities in their experience.
  • The pandemic: a catalyst for change
    Many participants mentioned how their experiences during the pandemic have challenged or changed their understanding of “church”. They often spoke of the need for change.
  • A greater openness towards faith and church
    Some participants in the Listening Project reported that they sensed or experienced a greater openness within other people towards faith.
  • Children and young people
    Some contributions celebrated the involvement of younger people in supporting others during the pandemic. Some appreciated intergenerational opportunities. Some expressed concern for the wellbeing of young people.
  • The national Church
    Where people shared experiences or perspectives on the actions of the Church of Scotland at a national level, these were split almost equally between praise and disappointment.
  • Connecting or reconnecting or disconnecting with faith and church
    Among the Listening Project’s participants, some people reported that the changes in life’s rhythms or in the way church has functioned has provided opportunities to explore faith and engage with the Church; some have found faith for the first time; some have disengaged with their local congregation at this time.
  • Community action and outreach
    Many participants in the Listening Project described how the pandemic has provided impetus and opportunity for practical action in their local community.

The full report, along with resources to help groups and congregations engage with the findings, will be shared through our website and social media channels later in June.

As well as providing a more comprehensive view of the data, it is hoped that the final report will deliver a level of detailed analysis not possible at this point in the project.

By cross-referencing themes within the data with demographic information, the group expects to be able to identify any ways in which people’s experiences and perspectives may vary with gender, age, location, access to technology and the kind of involvement people have with the Church.

These ‘headlines’ are designed to inspire and guide your own prayerful reflection on what we should be learning at this time, but also please remember that these are first glimpses from what is extensive and rich data. We encourage you to anticipate and plan to engage with the full report and the resources that accompany it in due course.

If you have any questions or comments on the work of the Listening Project, or if you would like to share experiences of your own local listening exercises, please email the working group or telephone 07966 286617.