QUESTIONS have been raised about how the Church of Scotland’s more liberal approach will help public engagement as a new study found less than one in five say they are affiliated to the Kirk.

The latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey has caused disquiet in some quarters as it reveals that those that say they belong to the Church of Scotland have fallen from 32% in 15 years ago to just 18% in 2017.

It also shows the numbers that say they are Roman Catholic has dipped slightly from 13%, 15 years ago to 12% last year.

But those who say they have no religion has shot up from 43% in 2003 to 56% in 2017.

Ian Montagu, senior researcher at the Scottish Centre for Social Research, said: "This year’s figures reinforce a gradual picture of overall decline in religious identity in Scotland – a decline most keenly felt by the Kirk."

He said the four per cent of people aged 18-34 identifying with the Church of Scotland is "particularly low". In 2002 it was 14%.

Mr Montagu added: “As attitudes in Scotland become more socially liberal on issues like same sex relationships and abortion, church leaders will no doubt be considering how to better connect to a changing society.

"It will be interesting to see what impact liberalising measures, such as the Church of Scotland’s efforts to allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages, have upon these numbers in the future.”

In June, the largest Protestant church in Northern Ireland voted to sever ties with the Church of Scotland due to what it felt was the Kirk's more liberal attitude to same-sex relationships.

HeraldScotland:

The unprecedented move by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland means the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will no longer be invited to the annual meeting of the church's General Assembly in Belfast. And the PCI will no longer accept invitations.

Survey data also reveals that in 2009, over one in three said they had attended a Church of Scotland at least once a month, but in 2017 it had dropped to one in four, according to the survey. Those who went to a Catholic church at least once a month dipped from 60% nine years ago to 52% last year.

A Catholic Church spokesman said “While it is reassuring to see Catholic figures remaining relatively constant, the decline in other Christian churches is very concerning.

"An analysis of numbers however should not ignore the significant social capital the Christian church contributes to Scottish society."

A Church of Scotland spokeswoman said there were various surveys and reports on congregational numbers and religious affiliation and "differing interpretations of their meaning".

She added: Our view is that we endeavour to be a Christian presence in communities and a force for good and we will continue to focus on that.

“Jesus called every Christian to be faithful to God and to make a positive difference in the world.

“That is why throughout history you have found Christians fighting injustice and inequality, being a voice for the poor and standing up for those who otherwise were alone.

“Jesus called this being a light in the darkness.

“The Church of Scotland is there to celebrate with individuals and families in the happy times but also to provide support during the difficult and sad times.

“Irrespective of the Church’s popularity, that calling remains the same and is why today you still find Christians active at all levels of society.

“Whether we are many or we are few, the church will always seek to be a force for good in society."

The Church of Scotland backed a report in May which could lead to same-sex marriages in church.

The General Assembly backed a motion which tasked a committee with drafting church law on the issue.

Its legal questions committee was asked to report back to the annual meeting of the decision-making body in 2020.

The 2016 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey was based on a sample of 1,237 people interviewed between July 2016 and December 2016.