ONE of the Kirk’s most senior and respected figures has raised fears that the Church faces a “drift into irrelevance and obscurity”.

The grim analysis by the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and an Honorary Chaplain to the Queen, comes against a background of dramatically declining Church attendance.

The number of people who regularly attend church services in Scotland has fallen by more than half in the last 30 years, according to a survey earlier this year – with the Kirk among the biggest casualties.

Writing in next month’s edition of the Church of Scotland’s magazine, Life And Work, Dr Chalmers says the future model “may bear little resemblance to the Church of recent generations”.

He said: “This is hard for me to say, because the Church I have been a part of all of my life still speaks to my spiritual needs.

“That, however, is because I know the ancient narratives, I am familiar with the hymns and songs of the faith, I’ve had a lifetime of engaging with the poetry of our public prayer and I associate sanctuary with buildings as magnificent as our cathedrals and as simple as our country kirks.

“These are the core diet of my faith. I would rather not see their passing and if I thought they were the recipe for nourishing the faith of a future generation I would put all my efforts into keeping the tradition alive.

“That would suit me fine and it would see me out.”

The Church of Scotland has made great efforts to embrace the internet and online technologies. Earlier this year it appointed its first ever “digital minister” in a bid to reconnect with worshippers who no longer attend traditional Sunday services.

Last Christmas, a string of churches streamed their festive services online, while a church in southern England has recently set up a text-a-prayer service.

The parish church of St Augustine of Canterbury, in Rodbourne, Wiltshire, has launched a dedicated mobile telephone number to which members of the congregation can send their prayers. The texts are then read out at the following mass as part of the prayers at the church’s weekly services.

It was also reported in May last year that the Church of Scotland was considering radical plans to introduce online baptisms for the first time.

Dr Chalmers said the Church needs to think “seriously” about how it supports the “widest possible range of people on their spiritual journey”.

He said: “The real truth today is that at the intersection of the church and real people, living on real streets, the rubber is not hitting the road and the traditional patterns of church life (with which I have been so comfortable) are not going to change that. Patterns of living are not going to shift back in time, so space for spiritual reflection and development now need to take on a different form, and they need to be built into the rhythm of life as it is, not as we would wish it to be.”

“A revolution in scientific understanding requires us to be able to speak of a God who is in and yet transcends all of life. People will not embrace old dogmas which may have been understandable in an age of less knowledge. Only a faith which speaks to the deepest needs of human life will be transformative for both individuals and the communities they belong to.

He added: “A whole new generation cannot be separated from their smartphones and tablets. In these there is the power to help to sustain people on their spiritual journey and nourish their inner life.

“So, the buildings that we decide to keep, the resources that we decide to develop and the structures that we decide to maintain must, it seems to me, be tested against their capacity for enabling us to be a people who express our faith through love.

“I think that the future will be built around such local centres of activity where people, whose spiritual life, nurtured in very different ways, find expression of their faith in very practical ways.”