Civic society would completely collapse without the Church of Scotland, according to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.
Ms Davidson said “there would be a massive absence in the public life of Scotland if the Church wasn’t there”.
The Tory leader met the Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood, former moderator of the General Assembly, outside the Scottish Parliament as part of the Church’s “Take a Pew” series of conversations about the place of faith in contemporary Scotland.
Dr Hood said: “The Church has realised that we really have to do something to reverse the situation of people leaving the Church and not getting enough people into the ministry. People of my generation will be retiring.”
She added: “A huge number of people associate themselves with the Church who don’t actually appear in our figures, but see the Church as a place where they can work out their own faith and service in the local community.
“The fact is if Church people opted-out of all of the community things that are happening, civic Scotland would collapse.
“If you take the Church people of our faith, and of other faiths, out of food banks, community cafes, the drop in centre, the addiction centres, if they stopped volunteering and are taken out, then civic Scotland would collapse.”
Ms Davidson agreed: “Completely.”
She added: “There are so many rural communities where the Church is the only thing that is left.
“The library, the Post Office and the school are gone, and the Church is the only thing people have left that binds that community together.
“It has such a crucial and important role in nourishing and supporting communities around Scotland.
“I think the Church of Scotland still has a huge role to play in the public life of Scotland, civic life of Scotland, and in challenging politicians like myself.
“There are lots of things I would like to change, but I think there would be a massive absence in the public life of Scotland if the Church wasn’t there.”
Ms Davidson continued: “The numbers game for the Church of Scotland doesn’t look great.
“Congregations have halved over the last decade or so, there are 120 vacancies for ministers around the country and only 40 people in training, so that’s not going to fill the gaps.
“The key demographic that the church is missing is 16 to 30-year-olds.
“Lots of people go to Sunday school but they drop off the radar, but 16 to 30-year-olds have a bigger voice now in Scottish society, politics and lots of different decision making areas than they ever have done before.
“This is because of their ability to form communities online and their ability to access information.”
She encouraged the Church to engage with initiatives such as the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, the Alpha Course and form regional recruitment hubs.