A report assessing the impact of work to develop a wide variety of non-traditional forms of church shows significant growth of new forms of church within the Church of England in Leicestershire.
The God At Work report shares learning about fresh expressions of Church (fxC) and similar initiatives within the Diocese of Leicester, which has been at the forefront of creative new approaches by the Church of England to serve local communities. You can see the God At Work report on this link.
It marks the end of a five-year project to develop its work in this area thanks to a £809,000 Strategic Development Fund award from the national Church of England in June 2014 which built on work to further develop pioneering in the diocese which started in 2011.
The report contains a distillation of results from more than eight years of work by the Diocese of Leicester and specially-commissioned research undertaken this year in partnership with Church Army’s Research Unit (CARU), as well as from significant areas of wider diocesan learning about pioneering.
You can see the full CARU survey findings on the Diocese of Leicester’s fxC and pioneering mission work, which has contributed to the God At Work report, here.
The God At Work reports reflects teh CARU survey and other research which show that fresh expressions of Church are growing, that they develop Christian disciples, they change people’s lives, and they grow in rural areas as well as urban areas.
Since the diocese began significantly investing in fxC in 2011, there has been a 125% increase in the number of people attending an fxC.
Now, in 2019, there are more than 3,500 people in the total worshipping community of fxC, which means that 19% of the diocese’s worshippers are in one of these communities. If other pioneering missional activity is taken into account in addition to fxC, then more than one in four of the Anglican worshippers in the diocese attend a new form of church rather than a traditional one.
FxC includes things like Messy Churches and Heavy Metal Churches as well as pub churches or church plants. These fxC are genuine churches, they are the place of belonging to a Christian community – people attending them don’t need to go to a “normal” church on a Sunday morning as well.
There is an increasing number of pioneering missional activities such as Messy Cathedral which aren’t trying to meet the criteria of being a fxC but, crucially, are still sharing the Gospel in a pioneering and innovative way with those around them. The report shows that nearly 60% of the people attending these activities wouldn’t come into contact with the Gospel in any other way.
The report also shares evidence that fresh expressions of Church are a missional, sustainable way to share the Gospel and to change the lives of those that become part of these communities. They report shows that they are often more generous than traditional church communities and have a higher proportion of people of BAME heritage.
The biggest piece of learning from the project and the research is that as well as a flourishing of new fxC, there has been even greater growth for other pioneering missional activities that don’t match the fxC criteria but that do share the Christian message with those that haven’t heard it. In doing so, they grow the numbers of people that know Jesus. Noticing and supporting these activities over the past three years has directly contributed to the exponential growth that is happening.
Heather Cracknell, Head of Development for Fresh Expressions for the Church of England nationally, said:
“What’s so encouraging about this report is that Leicester Diocese intentionally investing in growing fresh expressions is beginning to bear fruit; I’m convinced that the growth in numbers and discipleship we’re seeing now will continue as these churches mature and keep reaching their communities. And the reason I’m sure of this is that they are focused on deepening people’s faith and sharing Jesus, releasing lay people’s ministry and encouraging generosity. Although how this work has been funded up to now is coming to an end, it is very much just the beginning of this exciting move of God!”
Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, said:
“I believe that the fresh expressions movement is one of the most significant developments the Church has experienced over the past few decades.
“People are connecting with these exciting new forms of church, which are supported by our traditional churches and their congregations who want to reach out to those in their communities who won’t otherwise engage with God’s word, prayer or worship.
“The results of this research have not only helped us better understand those pioneering missional activities which fit the Church Army criteria for fully formed fresh expressions of Church, but also to gain insight into where God is at work in other pioneering contexts in the diocese.
“The fresh expressions movement has been so significant for a whole host of reasons - freeing lay people to be leaders in mission, encouraging risk-taking for the gospel, taking contextual evangelism seriously and reaching out to those outside the orbit of ‘normal’ church.
“The conclusions drawn by the Church Army’s Research Unit on the basis of their work with the Pioneer Development Team in Leicester further highlight the vital role that fresh expressions and pioneering now occupy in the mixed ecology landscape, which is going to be so important for the church’s mission in the 21st Century.
“I pray this report will be a helpful contribution as we continue to wrestle with what it means to be a Christian presence in every community at this point in history.”
You can read a blog about fresh expressions of Church and pioneering which Bishop Martyn posted from General Synod in July 2019 here.
Church Army’s Director of Learning and Development, Dr Tim Ling, said:
“Church Army’s Research Unit seeks to more fully realise how God is active in mission and to grow our understanding as to why churches’ participation in that mission may falter or flourish. One of the joys of partnering with the Diocese of Leicester has been to see in so many places how God is at work. Research is very simply a process of looking again, paying attention. We hope that by paying attention to how God is at work in the diocese others may be encouraged; and that through our reports reflect on how they may join in with this movement of the Spirit.”
Jonathan Dowman, Lead Pioneer Development Worker in the Diocese of Leicester, said:
“We have also learnt that fxC strengthen the existing, traditional church. As a diocese we are discovering that there is strength in the different models of church and a growing sense of partnership and mutual respect between inherited and newer forms of church. In talking about the ‘mixed ecology’ we have often light-heartedly used the analogy of a box of liquorice allsorts. They all have liquorice in them, they’re all in the same box, but different people prefer different sweets.
“Similarly, different expressions of church within a parish, whether fresh or inherited expressions of church complement each other. A Messy Church on a Saturday afternoon is simply a different expression of church in the parish from the 8.30am Sunday BCP or the 5pm evensong, and does not exist in opposition to or compete with the original form.
“Much like the body of Christ, it takes ‘all sorts’, working together towards the same goal, and we have seen a growth in the reciprocity of relationships between inherited and pioneering forms of missional activity.
“In line with the national Church initiative, Setting God’s People Free, a significant part of our diocesan vision has been setting all of God’s people free in the ministry that God is calling them to particularly through lay pioneers. As of October 2019 we have 51 licensed lay pioneers, and know from the Church Army research that there are 359 people engaged in various forms of leadership in our fxC. One of the unexpected joys has been giving 33% of our licensed lay pioneers away to other ministries. This has ranged from paid pioneer roles elsewhere in the country to ordination training for the priesthood. This level of vocational turnover has led us to coach and mentor our current pioneers to ensure that they are apprenticing those around them to co-lead, which in turn raises up new pioneer leaders and facilitates long term sustainability.
“We have also learnt that fxC offer unparalleled value for money and provide a sustainable approach to mission due to their significantly lower set up and ongoing costs. Over 1 in 4 people attending worship in the diocese now do so in a fxC, and this is within the context of 85% of the core leaders of these communities being unpaid. In addition to this, we know that inherited churches that have planted fxC are more generous in their ‘per person/per week giving’ (£12.11 per person per week rather than the diocesan average of £9.70 pp/pw). Whilst this is only a correlation it suggests a culture of generosity and discipleship within these communities – giving away their people to new communities as they are also generous with their money.
“One of the other key things that we have noticed is the extent to which fxC and other pioneering missional activity have the ability to be fleet of foot and to respond to need. Our research shows that more than 50% of those attending wouldn’t be going to any other form of church – this is the primary place where they encounter the Gospel. Across all of our pioneering missional activity that’s 2,826 people which represents 16% of the diocesan worshipping community. This missional DNA is a key reason why we saw 156 people come to faith in our fxC in 2018.”