The Church of Scotland has ditched a policy that barred non-Christians from working at its social care service amid a recruitment crisis.

All of the 2,000 staff employed by Crossreach – which is part of a support network which the Kirk has operated for the past years - must currently believe in the faith.

But in a move caused by recruitment problems, and changes to employment, in future only managers and supervisors will need to be of the faith.

Bill Steele, Convener of the church's Social Care Council, the name for CrossReach, said: "Having consulted widely and having sought employment law advice, the Council does not believe that the requirement for all care and support staff to be Christian is a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'," he added.

The change of policy had been the subject of "a number of heart-searching discussions," he said.

The Kirk said the previous policy was no longer ‘proportionate.’

With social care recruitment now a massive challenge across Scotland, it is hard enough to find workers without the extra spitulation., according to social care council convener Bill Steele, without insisting new staff be Christians as well.

Now new care employees will simply be required to pledge that they will not undermine the charity's Christian ethos, while also being warned that they cannot rise to managerial or supervisory level unless they subsequently make a Christian commitment.

The organisation is one of Scotland's largest providers of social services.

The charity operates in a number of areas, including care for older people, help with alcoholism, drug and mental health problems and assistance for homeless people and those with special learning needs.

Mr Steele said it had reaffirmed its mission to offer services in Christ's name. However it had carried out a review of its recruitment policy to ensure that the requirement for all staff to be Christian was "proportionate", he said.

Explaining the new approach at the Kirk's recent General Assembly, Mr Steele was challenged by Rev Douglas McNab, minister at New Machar parish, at the recent General Assembly on The Mound to clarify what would happen when a non-Christian worker advanced to a position where they might apply for managerial or supervisory posts.

He said: "Is there a danger the Church would run into difficulty there... can the fact that they don't have that commitment be held against them in the future?" he asked.

Mr Steele said it could, and the 'ceiling' on their possible advancement would be explained to new recruits at the time they joined the charity. "There would be a kind of induction and it would be made clear at that time that this is the limit of the distance they can travel without being able to make a Christian commitment," he said.

Having taken employment law advice, Crossreach is working on putting together a brief introduction to Christianity, for those who declare clearly that they are not Christian, to help them understand something of the Christian faith., he added: "We've been advised and we're happy to do that."

Despite the Scottish Government-backed policy of insisting on a living wage for frontline care workers, social care providers continue to report major difficulties finding enough staff.

In a recent survey by Community Care Providers Scotland, the umbrella body for charities providing social care, the number of groups pessimistic about recruitment more than doubled from 16 per cent to 35 per cent over a previous survey in 2014. Meanwhile the private sector umbrella group Scottish Care says nine out of ten care at home providers are experiencing "serious recruitment issues" while 77 per cent of care homes currently have vacancies.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Steele added: "CrossReach, the Church of Scotland’s Social Care Provider, is passionate about delivering care and support by showing the practical side of Christian faith as we serve in Christ’s name.

"What remains important to us is that all CrossReach staff, including those who do not share our faith, are required to respect our Christian ethos and values which we believe fundamentally underpins the quality of our care and support.

"As a national care and support provider we would want to encourage people to consider a career in care and to look for opportunities on our website."

Before 2005, Crossreach was known as the Church of Scotland Board of Social Responsibility.