Wednesday, July 04, 2012

If it's 3% Fresh, is it Fresh?

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.


  1. David
    thanks for blogging on this - just been reading the report going to Synod today and you sent me back to check the figures on pages 48 and 49 - and i think you may have got them wrong? or i have misread them myself! in CofE 39% of Parishes said they had started a fresh expression with a further 12% planning to start one in the next two years - so we are talking over 10 times the number you have suggested - but with the important proviso that this may not reflect an accurate assessment - the Methodists have a figure of around 1,200 - much less than the Anglicans.
    the Church Army Sheffield Centre where i work carried out the survey of two diocese which recorded them as having 10% and 11% of their attendees in fresh expressions - having also decided not to include some fresh expressions - suggesting that the 39% is perhaps too large - we are in the process of releasing reports on this with the details in full the first will appear via our website in the next few days.
    the church commissioners have released funding for this research to be extended further in the hope of covering all or at least most of the diocese of the CofE so further reports will follow. this is part of a wider research commission intended o help them target mission funding better - so hopefully addressing some of your questions - we shall wait and see ;o)
    Steve Hollinghurst

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  3. sorry - got the link wrong. You can download that report here:

    It's called TSC research bulletin 10.



  4. Hi Steve
    The paragraph in blue at the top of the post is a direct cut and paste from the Synod document linked above it. And no, it doesn't square with the 39% reported elsewhere. Either we have 1000 fresh expressions, or 5000. I somehow doubt it's the latter! And not everthing that's called one is one....

  5. David i agree - both figures are probably wrong - and my apologies i knew that the 1,000 figure had in the past been circulated to Synod from a paper by Rachel Jordan i didn't know it was also attached to this debate - which seems odd when the report says 39% - if the Liverpool data was repeated for all diocese - which it won;t be - we'd be looking at 3,000 and 10% of attendees - but that data may also suggest that perhaps 50-60% of the 39% would stand up to scrutiny so perhaps 20% with a fresh expression so around 2,500 may prove close? in truth we don't know until research like that in Liverpool is done church wide. also the Methodists suspect many of there official figure might not be stand up - so we can;t really compare how the two churches are doing without better figures - we can though as you suggest say more are still needed

  6. This really is interesting stuff, isn't it. The numbers are inevitably dodgy, given the subject. I suspect many fresh expressions keep track of numbers for their own benefit, but Mouse has certainly never been asked by his diocese how many people attend the various initiates we have at our church.

    Ultimately what is more important than absolute numbers is the trend, and to make sure we are counting things in a consistent way to see if they are going up or down.

    But the question Mouse asks is whether there really is any effective centralised support for this, or whether it is happening because parishes are doing what parishes do, and we are now calling it "fresh expressions".

    Would be very interested in views.

  7. Hi Mouse,

    In our research we are interviewing over the phone everyone from a given diocese who is a key contact or leader of a known 'fresh expression'. The first 5 or so mins of the conversation is determining whether what they have really is a fresh expression of Church. By doing this we only recorded 60% of the examples we were given in Liverpool Diocese. The rest were really good, but what you have said above - parishes doing what parishes do.

    We hope then that we get at least a snapshot of what really is happening regarding creating fresh expressions of Church across the country.