Keeping the momentum going

Monday, 9 December, 2013

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

As I reflect on 2013, there are many encouragements.

This year, the central statistics reported to the Methodist Conference were extremely heartening and we have also had some really good research information drawn from in-depth studies of dioceses carried out by the Church Army Research's Unit. Watch out for news of the full findings, which will be released at the Faith in Growth Research Conference on 16th January 2014 and on our website.

There is clear evidence of momentum.

There are tens of thousands of people in fresh expressions of church, the great majority of whom would not be part of any church apart from this; indeed many have never been part of any church before this! Both the Methodist statistics and the Anglican research show that the greatest momentum has been in the past few years. God's Spirit is clearly at work and the planting of a fresh expression of church is proving to be one of the most fruitful means of re-evangelising Britain.

I am encouraged by the diversity. In the first dioceses to be studied by the Church Army's Research Unit, there were as many as 20 different models. There is evidence of missional imagination - rather than the cloning of ideas which worked somewhere else – with local context and the leading of the Holy Spirit clearly being taken seriously.

We are learning more about developing discipleship in fresh expressions of church. Our Discipleship Round Table includes leaders from a number of very different fresh expressions which have all been established for some years. Much of the learning was summarized in my recent booklet, making disciples in fresh expressions of church.

Another feature of the research was the considerable number of new lay leaders involved. This raises questions about training and support. I strongly recommend that anyone involved in leading a fresh expression should complete the mission shaped ministry course as soon as they are able. Details of current courses are on the website - please contact us if there isn't a course in your area and you would like one to be offered.

This year has also seen ecumenical growth with the work developing further in the United Reformed Church and in the Congregational Federation and new partnerships formed with the Church of Scotland and The Salvation Army. In addition, courtesy of our partner the Council for World Mission (Europe), we held a consultation day with church leaders in Wales. Similar ecumenical partnerships have begun in other parts of the world in 2013, in particular in Germany and South Africa.

There is clear evidence of momentum and growth and I am delighted to be able to hand over the leadership of the team to Canon Phil Potter, currently Director of Pioneer Ministry in the Diocese of Liverpool, when I retire at the end of April. Phil's experience is ideal for the next stage.

Momentum does not mean there are no problems. A number of obstacles still remain. We have not yet reached a tipping point in the churches and the default setting in many places is still, 'If we can only do what we have always done better it will all turn out all right.' That is not so. There is indeed growth to be had when inherited model churches are both missional and hospitable: the mixed economy is still vital but is has to be the mixed economy. We will not turn the tide without both dimensions. Just 'more of the same' is a guarantee of further decline.

This obstacle is also evident in deployment policies. Pioneers, lay or ordained, funded, self supporting or voluntary, are seen a luxury extra, rather than the key to reaching otherwise unreached people.

We live in times of financial austerity where the new is often the first thing to be cut. Most denominational funding is for developing work internally. The Fresh Expressions team struggles to fund the work it does, and the resources it provides, for the denominations in the partnership. We are still heavily dependent on charitable giving and have more to raise for the next phase.

We are always happy to hear of trusts or donors who would be interested in supporting our work, so please do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like to know more of what we do! Individuals are also welcome to donate directly through our website.

2013 has been a year of God's faithfulness. Please pray for the momentum to continue, for the team and for the provision of the resources we need.

+Graham Cray

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