Fresh expressions of church growth? (Matt Stone)

Monday, 29 June, 2009

Matt StoneMatt Stone asks how and why do fresh expressions of church grow.

How and why do fresh expressions of church grow? What do they do to bring in new members? What might traditional forms of church learn from their approaches? These have been the questions that have interested me as I've studied six varied fresh expressions in the south-east of England. Three key themes emerged.

First, it was clear that fresh expressions' leaders are networkers. They are the nodes in the networks that pass through and make up fresh expressions; reaching out and connecting through local churches, church organisations, schools, friends, families, social networking sites, blogs, websites, leaflets and parish magazines. Publicity is important, but word of mouth seems to be the most powerful tool. The networking is frequently multi-directional, as people connected to other church or social activities are brought into the fresh expression, and those who attend fresh expressions may be encouraged to attend other church or social activities.

Secondly, it became clear that networks were strengthened and embedded by people's desire for community. When asked what they liked about their fresh expression, questionnaire respondents repeatedly commented on the social nature of the expression and the friendships they had formed. As community developed, the members appreciated the way they journeyed together in faith.

How and why do fresh expressions of church grow? What do they do to bring in new members?

Thirdly, it was clear that many respondents appreciated the informality and fluidity of the expression they attended. A relatively unconstrained ecclesiology helped expressions respond to both the call of the Spirit and the spiritual and social needs of those attending. As one leader told me, "Our strategy was just to share values and worship together and teach and see what naturally evolved."

Whilst I only studied six fresh expressions, I would be interested to hear other people's stories. Do these themes ring true? Could and should these ideas be embraced by more traditional forms of church too? Are they fresh models for church growth?

About the author: 

Matt Stone is training for United Reformed Church ministry in the Cambridge Theological Federation, and has recently completed an MA dissertation on whether fresh expressions are 'fishing nets or safety nets?' Matt is also a columnist for Reform magazine.


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