The last time I was in church? Let me see. It was Saint Luke’s in Glasgow. It was packed to the rafters, the music was superb, and the message was inspirational. It wasn’t a religious service of course, it was a rock gig. But then you knew that didn’t you? We ate pizza and drank beer. Do churches do pizza and beer?

I was thinking about the question of churches the other day as well while I was out on a run in the Gorbals and ended up on Devon Street. Every time I’m in that area I can see the old Eglington church – only in my mind’s eye of course, it was demolished years ago. Where the building used to be, there’s now a bare patch of ground in the shadow of the brutal M74. It makes me sad.

But do I have the right to feel sad about the vanishing of churches or their conversion to music venues or pubs or whatever? Even though I’m agnostic and the child of non-believers, church was part of my life for years: Sunday school, school assembles, bible class, remembrance services, you name it. But now: nothing. The only time I go to church is when someone dies or gets married (and even then, most people opt for humanist now).

I suppose that means I’m part of the problem. According to the most recent figures, the Church of Scotland has some 283,600 members, down from 1.3million in the 1950s. The number going to church in person has also fallen since the pandemic – it was 88,000 before, 60,000 now. Humanist weddings also overtook church ones ages ago – each church now averages just one wedding and one baptism a year.

The consequences of all of this are obvious and have been for years. A report being presented to the General Assembly this week says that the Church of Scotland will have to close hundreds of its churches in the coming years: it says having 1,000 buildings to cater for the number of people attending is untenable and unsustainable. Rev David Cameron, who’s presenting the report, tried to put a positive spin on it to be fair: uniting congregations, he said, can bring about a new lease of life.

But I’m not so sure. I remember speaking about this to Very Rev Dr Susan Brown – former chaplain to the Queen and (even more famously) the minister who married Madonna and Guy Ritchie – and her take on it was that, particularly in rural places, closing a church usually means closing the heart of the community. But she was also pretty realistic about the bigger picture and said that the Church needed to take stock of the buildings it owns. She now also has a new job helping churches cope without a full-time minister because that’s part of the problem too: there’s a serious lack of staff.

Dr Brown told me the problem of dwindling congregations was partly down to the fact that young people are now much less likely to have direct experience of religious services: the assemblies and bible classes I had as a kid (and you probably did too) and she’s surely right about that. You need to experience what the options are to know what options are right for you.

But I also worry that the Church of Scotland still isn’t appreciating the deeper trends at work here: the fact that our culture is changing quickly and the church is changing slowly. On gay marriage, for example, the General Assembly voted last year to allow ministers to marry same-sex couples if they want to, which is a good thing. But Rev Peter Johnston, one of those who campaigned for the change, told me it was the result of a “long journey over many decades”. It had to be fought for, and it took forever.

What this feet-dragging means is that the kind of people who would naturally replace the ageing congregations (and the ageing ministers) are no longer there in the numbers they once were. And it’s for a simple reason really: churches largely, or totally, reject the principles and beliefs that most young people now hold, so why would they go to a place that tells them they’re wrong?

I understand that many Christians will see this as the wrong way round to look at things and will assert that the strength of faith is that it offers unmoveable truths in a random, changing, moveable world. What would be the point of religion and a church, they say, if it simply altered its principles in the face of changing social trends? But that’s precisely what churches have always done: from simple procedures to basic tenets, they’ve changed their views and evolved.

And the potential benefits of doing so can be seen in the Scottish Episcopal Church, which has been ahead of the curve on this. I visited St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral on Great Western Road and spoke to its provost Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth and it was clear that, after some considerable struggle, he understands what’s going on. Famously, Mr Holdsworth came out as gay to his congregation and since 2017 same-sex marriages have been conducted in the cathedral.

But more important than all of that for people who worry about the decline of churches is that St Mary’s saw a rise, not a drop, in its Sunday congregation after the subject of sexuality and tolerance became an issue there. What happened was that Mr Holdsworth became the target of online abuse not only because of his sexuality but because he’d invited local Muslims to a service at the cathedral which included a reading from the Koran. Result: the congregation went up. More bums on seats.

The point here is that for churches to have relevance, and for their buildings to survive, they need to continue, and also expedite, their evolution. The consolidation of the Church of Scotland’s buildings will certainly need to go ahead and arguably needs to go further – does it really need that grand building in Edinburgh’s George Street as its HQ for example? It’s probably also true that the sharing of ministers between churches can work just fine.

But it’s the potential connections between the churches and the people who might come to them that matters more. A senior figure in the Church of Scotland, Rev Dr Martin Scott, said a while back that he thought the Kirk might cease to exist within 30 years because of falling congregations and dwindling resources. But is that really likely I wonder? Dr Brown for one rejected the idea, but she also said that the Church in 30 years from now will probably have changed shape and form and she’s surely right about that too. Some questions still need answered though. Is the change deep enough? Is it happening fast enough? And has it really started?