'Major impact' of fresh expressions of church

Thursday, 16 January, 2014

Fresh expressions of church are having a major impact on growth in the Church of England – according to research released today (Thursday 16th January 2014).

Church of England statisticsThe detailed study, involving all fresh expressions of church in 10 dioceses, was carried out by the Church Army's Research Unit for the Church Commissioners. 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 report comes as part of an 18-month research programme investigating factors related to church growth within the Church of England. Findings 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% of the fresh expressions in the research were launched between 2010 and 2012.

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% of that initial team size.

The findings were presented by George Lings at the Faith in Research Growth Conference in London today. The research in the 10 dioceses also headlines:

  • an estimated 24.5% of those attending fresh expressions of church are already members of a church, 35.2% are people who used to belong to church but who left for one reason or another while 40.3% are those with no previous church background at all.
  • the 13.5% of parishes in the dioceses surveyed had started a fresh expressions of church.
  • 52% of the fresh expressions of church are led by people who are not ordained, 40% 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 of church and the average size is 44.
  • fresh expressions of church can be found in all traditions in the Church of England. The fresh expressions of church 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% 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%, either continue to grow numerically or maintain the growth gained. Of those surveyed, 25% did grow but are now shrinking while 9.7% 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.

You can download the full fresh expressions research report below or you can find the executive summary of the complete research, a video explaining the research and other resources on the Church Army website.

Church growth research - fresh expressions3.06 MB
Short PowerPoint presentation with the key statistics1.06 MB

Fresh expressions of church are having a major impact on growth in the Church of England – according to research released today (Thursday 16th January 2014) - this short video introduces the statistics.

Duration: 1:30   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


Great research showing the impact of fx on church growth. I imagine these are matched by experiment, ecumenism, increased vocation, social justice in communities etc that benefits the whole body of Christ.

My two immediate responses to the research are:

a) I'm saddened that the new forms are perpetuating the generally existing patterns of women working under worse conditions than men - unpaid and not ordained, when one would hope new methods & working practices would encourage empowerment and equality. What is going to be done about this?

b) now we see that growth is happening among the unchurched people, when will the church respond helpfully and allow new liturgy to be crafted that is simple and clear avd useable by the new churches? The liturgical commission needs a new sub group that reflects the different non religious cultures and lack of theological - or sometimes any - education that people have. Given the ridiculous over reaction to the trialing of the new baptism words, it still feels we are a long way off from having appropriate inculturated means of worship for new communities to access.

Kim you make two excellent points and I entirely agree

Kim - good point, but the proportions of ordained women and men leading fresh expressions are similar to the total figures for the CofE nationally, so this is not simply a fresh expressions issue. It is deeper than that, has historic roots and will inevitably take a while to change.

However there is a significant contrast to inherited models of church. In the fresh expressions surveyed, there are 324 male leaders and 348 female leaders, lay and ordained. That is very different to the national leadership picture.

Great infographic and stats. Fascinating gender implications. How are these stats influencing the work of Fresh Expressions?

Kiera, we are looking at them very closely and encouraging those in the church making difficult resourcing decisions to look at them carefully too. Prayerful and evidence based resourcing decisions would be good.

i think Kim's point on gender and leadership is really important - my guess is that the question is all about funding - diocese are almost certainly not spending 15% of their clergy budget on fresh expressions - of course we are also seeing a large increase in women self-supporting priests. OK there is a further issue here - i strongly suspect that self-supporting priests and lay people are going to be essential to the future of church leadership - which then leads to ask why are women more prepared to do this than men? that is down to entrenched social attitudes that are alive and well in all walks of society. - these need challenging - of course if the future of the church is self-supporting the real challenge may be for the men to accept they won't be paid if they want to lead the church ;o) -

on the liturgical question - i don't think we want the liturgical commission to produce new liturgies - rather we need rules for authorizing liturgies that fresh expressions produce themselves - though guidelines to help them do that may be a good idea.

Jonny mentioned that the gender imbalance was mainly seen in relation to church planting rather than across the range of fx.

This may be self selecting because church planting tends to be a response to mission that emits more from the evangelical/charismatic end of the tradition, where the acceptance of women in leadership is still a cultural/Biblical issue?

My own story is that I would love to do this and would be prepared to be self supporting or unpaid. However, I am a Dad, a husband, and we are a young family and need my income to support my immediate "parish".

Only possible to do if your partner is able to support, and in our case my wife works part time and is a full time Mum. I suspect I am not alone.

The issue for me isn't gender but how do you support family "breadwinners" to transition from full time employment to full time sustainable pioneer ministry.

I agree with Steve about the liturgical question and a more organic approach to liturgy would seem the most authentic approach for a new expression of worship.

I guess in one way I agree about liturgy being created where it is needed via good guidelines.

But another part of me is very aware of the Church of England's belief that 'we are what we pray' and I believe that if we created, agreed and adopted new words, it would have an impact on the internal culture of the church and shape/change what we believe about ourselves over time. In this church at this time, who controls the liturgy and what those words are reflects a huge power base and if we want to change the internal culture (and I very much believe we must) then we need to do that by use of the internal mechanisms aswell as launching new churches.

It would also get the issue of inculturation onto the wider agenda - as the new baptism wording has thrown up, there are huge issues here because we are still using ancient language, that brings with it ancient concepts of who is in charge, who is included, etc etc.

So, yes I agree we should be able to shape words for ourselves, and I'm told by a lot of liturgists that this freedom does exist within the framework of common worship, but many clergy and bishops do not understand or accept this yet. And also, how do we ever get taught or trained in that when we are off out in fx's?

Anyway, the research brings a lot of good news and I'm very pleased about the socio economic diversity represented.

As a non-Anglicam who has not yet read the full report - is the fact that 'only' over a third have communion services related to a conviction about the nature of the 'expression' as Church or because many groups are not led by ordained people and as such communion cannot be celebrated? Genuine question.

Oh - that should be Anglican -

Do you feel the invitation to communion where it happens should be restricted to the 'members'.
Fresh Expressions tend to be "Belong > Believe > Behave", all welcome to come and join us whatever you are like. Classically traditional churches are "Believe > Behave > Belong". If a Fresh Expression has a number of people growing towards faith, the traditional approach to giving communion only to those who are 'qualified' by their faith, as seen in confirmation, can be very dividing. I wonder if this issue reduces the number of Communions found in Fresh Expressions? Can anyone else comment from experience?
I am an Anglican Priest, (hence qualified to take a communion), who leads a small developing Fresh Expression, this is the issue which cause me to hesitate at the moment from including a communion. It is however the practicalities/legalities which are the problem. Personally I give a free invitation to anyone who wishes to come.

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