One of the papers for General Synod this weekend looks at the impact so far of Fresh Expressions:
The movement has produced over 1,000 fresh expressions of church in the Church of England and nearly 2,000 in the Methodist Church. The new people attending fresh expressions in the Church of England account for 3% of our national attendance figures; these are people who were not previously attending “inherited churches” (i.e. established patterns of church life and worship). In two dioceses in the Church of England, where the planting of fresh expressions has been adopted as a clear part of their growth strategy, 10% or more of their attendance figures are those attending fresh expressions of church.
Synod has a debate on the 'ecclesiology' of fresh expressions - I would argue we need to question the ecclesiology of all our other expressions of church too - but there seems to be a commitment to ongoing church planting and development of FX in the Anglican church.
A couple of things struck me about this:
- how come the Methodists, a significantly smaller church, have got twice as many? It's reminiscent of 2020 cricket, invented in England but then England quickly got left behind as others realised more quickly the potential of the game. The CofE has 13,000 parishes, and only 1 in 13 (probably less, some churches will have several FX) has developed a new form of church. What can we learn from the Methodists?
- our Messy Church is probably one of those 1000, but it happens monthly, with a month off in the summer, and whilst it has some of the features of the church 'event', it's not a congregation of Christian disciples. It might be called 'church', but it's not a new, self-sustaining congregation, it's series of branded events which might form a gateway to Christian faith for some. I wonder how many more of the 1000 are Fresh Expressions, but these are more expressions of outreach than of viable churches. Or am I being unfair?
- I'd love to know who the identity of the 2 Dioceses mentioned in the last sentence. Again, strategic question: will other Dioceses be encouraged to take the same approach? How committed are we to this stuff? Will the national CofE step in if Dioceses are failing to plant new churches or promote mission? If we recognise that what we currently do is culturally limited, and tends only to connect with those who already have a church background (30% and shrinking), then as a mission strategy we need to be looking more at 50-70%.
It's a start, but there's plenty still to do.