‘Invisible Church’ author optimistic about future of faith

Steve Aisthorpe in Afghanistan

This first book to consider why people stop attending church based on thorough research turned into a publishing phenomenon this year. Author Steve Aisthorpe’s “The Invisible Church” became an instant best seller, and challenged many preconceptions linking declining church attendance with a decline in Christian faith. Steve, who is the Church of Scotland’s Mission and Development worker in the north of the country, looks back at what has been an eventful year, and ahead to what 2017 may hold.

2016 began with a sigh of relief. The manuscript of The Invisible Church was with Saint Andrew Press. At last, the fruit of several years of research and reflection would be accessible to anyone who was interested.

The early part of the year often saw me in Skye, helping congregations with local research and facilitating Future Focus, a process to help congregations reimagine their future. It was exciting to sense that, after a challenging few years for that Presbytery, congregations were seeking God’s guidance for the next chapter.

The Invisible Church was launched in May. I had planned some events, but I had not expected the level of interest from media and other denominations. There were numerous radio interviews – some conducted over the mobile in a Highland layby! Throughout 2016 interest in The Invisible Church led to involvement with networks beyond my usual scope: the Greenbelt festival, the Wigtown Book Festival, the Church of England’s ‘Faith in Research’ conference, a symposium of academics involved in faith-related research. Most importantly though, there have been many openings to help congregations and Presbyteries to engage with the implications of the research.

A highlight of the summer was the Fresh Expressions Summer School in Dundee. People gathered from all corners of Scotland - island and mainland, rural and urban – all committed to exploring new ways of being church. Fresh Expressions is a dynamic mission movement and it is exciting to see it taking root in Scotland.

For several years now I have been providing retreats and from September to December people in and around Lochaber, Orkney, Sutherland and Inverness were offered a day of guided prayer and reflection on the theme of ‘Listening to God’.

Aside from my role with the Church of Scotland I am a trustee of a charity working in Afghanistan. In November this involved visiting projects around Kandahar and Kabul. It was deeply moving and profoundly challenging to see how, despite acute insecurity, people continue to hope and work together for a better future.

So what of 2017? In addition to the support of congregations and Presbyteries in the North I am excited about plans to develop a network of volunteer facilitators for Future Focus. This has great potential to enrich and invigorate congregations. I hope that 2017 will see many volunteer facilitators experiencing the privilege of blessing congregations in this way.

One of my last meetings in 2016 was a gathering of development workers to discuss how to get the resources and activities that we have found to be effective into the hands of a much wider group of people. Quite what form that will take (online, book, DVDs …) is yet to be decided, but I can see that collaborating on a project like this could have considerable benefits for the wider church. Watch this space …

Copies of ‘The Invisible Church’ are available to purchase through St Andrew Press