Thursday, May 16, 2013

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies Quotes 2: George Lings on Fresh Expressions and Church Planting

Fresh Expressions research in 6 dioceses, with 6 others in process, gave us a blitz of stats and insights from the Church Army's George Lings in session 2. Here's some of the highlights and quotes:

"representative accurate information will serve the church better than national guesswork"

361 Fresh Expressions identified in the first 6 dioceses studied (Liverpool, Leicester, Derby, Norwich, Canterbury, Chelmsford), total attendance over 14,000. "in all cases the growth from the fresh expressions of church more than reverses he decline in these dioceses in the 5 years of reported figures 2006-10"

Lots of the fresh expressions of church (fxc for short from now on!) start small - about 3/4 begin with a team of 3-12 in size, and most have a membership in the 20-50 range. It's 'many small things, not a few big ones'. Lots of them grow quickly to 30-50 members, then plateau, there seems to be a natural size limit. Finding the natural size is important. 

Over 50% of them meet on a Sunday, big variety in how many meet weekly, from 28% in 1 diocese to 65% in another

About 20 different types identified, Messy Church is the most popular, and most are aimed at all ages, very few really specialised ones (such as skateboarder or surfer church, as featured in the early fxc dvds)

The research excluded a lot of things which claimed to be fxc but werent, in some dioceses 60% were ruled out. Some were existing things rebranded as fxc. "a bicycle could be called a fresh expression of horse, but that wouldn't really help us"

There seems to be a clustering effect "what is veiwable starts to become doable", so if there are some fxc in a locality, other local churches are more likely to have a go. 

There are a significant proportion of members who are either de-churched or non-churched. Only around 25% of the membership are Christians who were already church members, and many of these were from the initial set up teams. For every 1 church members sent to set up a fxc, 2.6 are added to the church. That's an amazing multiplier. For most of us 10% growth over 5 years would be great. Fxc are seeing 250% growth in the same timescale. "There is nothing else like this effect in the whole Church of England"

Fxc are working in a whole range of settings, from UPA to suburban to new town to rural. The majority of people who come are from the immediate area. More and more fxc are being set up to enable the church to reach into cultural diversity (e.g. different age groups) rather than to reach 'unreached' part of the parish or geographical areas: "parish works nearly perfectly with area, but it is not designed to recognise or respond to cultural features" but fxc can.

The vast majority of fxc are doing discipleship in one form or another - courses, mentoring, small groups etc. Those that don't tend to have a higher mortality rate. 

About half take place in church buildings, though it varies - in Liverpool 60% occur in more neutral venues. It's all about what makes for most accesibility.

So far in the 6 dioceses, despite finding quite a few fxc which went across parish boundaries, 'we met no serious conflict over this issue'

The majority are lay led, and this is a growing trend. There are an increasing number which are led by lay people with no kind of formal training/accreditation at all (e.g. Reader, employed church staff). "we are entering the era of the lay-led church" (hooray!!)

Only 48% of the leaders are full time (most of these men!) 33% are leading fxc in their spare time. 

That'll do for now. It was tremendously encouraging to hear, and raised a stack of questions as well - e.g. whether some of the questioning about the nature of church and mission that is put to fxc could be put to our inherited churches as well, and whether the level of experimentation and re-imagining of ministry that's going on can only happen in new forms of church. 

But who would guess, from the headlines and the media narrative, that across the CofE 1 in 10 of our worshippers is a member of a newly planted church, and that over 10% of our churches have been started in the last 20 years? It's an interesting contrast with the rate of closure of church buildings in yesterdays church commissioners report: I question whether we could do more pruning in order to create space for more growth. Or maybe it's better to sidetrack clergy with the care and maintenance of ancient buildings and traditions and let the lay pioneers just get on with it?

Justin Welby next post, use the diocesan church growth strategies tag for others from the conference.


  1. Really encouraging. FX seems to be an important piece of work and needs wider use.

    My question is a newly started mother and toddler group, where one didn't exist before FX or just Church. Started by a Curate, but now led by the lay members themselves. We provide the building they do the rest.

  2. Really great to read this -- thanks so much for posting.