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‘Major impact’ of fresh expressions

Fresh expressions of church are having a major impact on growth in the Church of England, according to new research

The detailed study, released on Thursday (16 January) and involving all fresh expressions of church in 10 dioceses, was carried out by the Church Army’s Research Unit. A fresh expression of church is a new form of church that serves those outside the existing church, and the research showed that on average fresh expressions make up 15 per cent of the churches within a diocese and 10 per cent of the attendance. Additionally there has been marked growth in the last three years.

Canon Dr George Lings, the Unit’s Director, said, ‘Nothing else in the Church of England has this level of missional impact and the effect of adding further ecclesial communities.’

Between January 2012 and October 2013, researchers spoke to the leaders of 518 fresh expressions in the dioceses of Liverpool, Canterbury, Leicester, Derby, Chelmsford, Norwich, Ripon & Leeds, Blackburn, Bristol and Portsmouth. These dioceses were chosen to reflect variety in context, geographical spread and different stances towards fresh expressions.

The findings come as part of an 18-month research programme investigating factors related to church growth within the CofE. They showed that, by 2012, four to five times as many fresh expressions were being started per year compared to 2004 - when the Mission-shaped Church report was launched.

The growth has been noticeably marked in the past three years. Some 44 per cent of the fresh expressions in the research were launched between 2010 and 2012. Across the 10 dioceses surveyed, this adds the equivalent of a whole new diocese in terms of numbers.

Evidence suggests that for every one person involved in the setting up of a fresh expression of church, there are now two and half more people. A typical fresh expression begins with 3-12 people and grows to 250 per cent of that initial team size.

The study results were presented by George Lings at the Faith in Research Growth Conference in London on Thursday. The research in the 10 dioceses also headlines:
  • An estimated 24.5 per cent of those attending fresh expressions of church are already members of a church, 35.2 per cent are people who used to  belong to church but who left for one reason or another while 40.3 per cent are those with no previous church background at all.
  • The fresh expressions of church, on average, were found to make up 15 per cent of the dioceses’ churches and 10 per cent of the attendance.
  • 52 per cent of the fresh expressions are led by people who are not ordained, 40 per cent are led by people who are not formally authorised. Two out of three lay leaders are women, two out of three ordained leaders are men; but the men are more likely to be paid and the women working voluntarily.
  • There are at least 20 different recognizable types of fresh expressions and the average size is 44.
  • They can be found in all traditions in the Church of England. The fresh expressions meet in all kinds of venues at various times, days of the week and geographical settings. The world of fresh expressions of church is described as one of ‘varied and smaller communities’
  • 78 per cent intentionally encourage discipleship, not just attract attenders. Over a third have communion services and a third have had baptisms. Half are taking some steps toward responsibility for their finances and two thirds for how they are led, very few have formal legal status within the Church of England
  • The majority, 66 per cet, either continue to grow numerically or maintain the growth gained. Of those surveyed, 25 per cent did grow but are now shrinking while 9.7 per cent have come to an end. Growth patterns vary according to a wide combination of factors, including the kind of fresh expression, social area served and frequency of meeting

Bishop Graham Cray, Archbishops’ Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team, said, 'This thorough research shows the numerical scale, the demographic spread and the sheer variety of fresh expressions of church in the Church of England.

'Particularly significant is the proportion of people involved who have never been part of any church in their lifetime, and the number of new lay leaders who have never previously been involved. These findings offer hope. and show that the Church of England does know how to draw unchurched people into Christian discipleship and fellowship, and that decline is not inevitable.'

Dr Rachel Jordan, National Mission and Evangelism Adviser for the Church of England, added, ‘This research has shown the true impact of fresh expressions of church in the Church of England. There are far more fresh expressions than we had ever imagined, creatively reaching all types of people with the love and message of Jesus Christ – people who were previously entirely missing from our churches.

'It demonstrates that the Church of England can adapt and flourish in the present and promises that we have a real future.’

Canon Phil Potter, Director of Pioneer Ministry, Diocese of Liverpool, and team leader elect of Fresh Expressions, commented, ‘This is the most in-depth research we’ve had to date and it offers an encouraging and exciting snapshot of how the Church is finding fresh confidence in evangelism through fresh expressions.

'There is much here to both inspire and challenge, and this research will help to release many more creative and strategic conversations as we work together for a new future.’

For more on the research visit www.freshexpressions.org.uk/news/anglicanresearch

Baptist Times, 16/01/2014
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