Despite evidence of wider church decline, new research undertaken by the Church Army reveals that many churches up and down the country are in fact experiencing unprecedented growth thanks to fresh expressions.
That's according to the findings of their new report, being presented today at the Faith in Research Conference in London.
In addition to fresh expressions of church, the report details how
attendance levels at more traditional cathedrals are also in good
The fresh expression movement aims to engage especially with those
who would not usually consider attending a traditional church, and
worship takes on different forms.
Some fresh expressions meet in more
unusual locations such as pubs or bars, though many use church buildings
but take a more informal approach to services.
The new research shows that within the average diocese, fresh
expressions make up 15 per cent of the total number of churches, and 10
per cent of the attendance.
An estimated 21,000 people attend fresh expression churches in the 10
surveyed areas of the 44 Church of England Dioceses, and 66 per cent of
those churches are either growing in number or maintaining their
These figures indicate that the changing landscape of religion in the
UK means that churches are having to do things differently by adapting
to the needs of their local communities – and it's working.
George Lings, Church Army's Research Unit Leader, said: "It was
energising to hear the fresh expressions leaders talk about the growth
they are seeing.
"The fresh expressions movement is very important for the future life
of the Church of England and now for the first time we have harder
evidence to back up that conviction."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby has
agreed, praising churches for growing their congregations and noting
that "there is every reason to be hopeful about the future of the Church
Archbishop Welby has celebrated the work of fresh expression churches
in the past for the way in which they engage with the un-churched.
"If the Church is to meet the challenges of today - not least those
that are posed by government funding cuts - we have to have more people
on the ground," he asserted, though he also noted that the establishment
of new congregations must be well considered and always seek to further
the Kingdom of God.
"If fresh expressions is not at its heart involving an encounter with Christ then I'm not remotely interested," he said.
This new evidence for the effectiveness of the fresh expression
movement is no doubt an encouraging sign for the Church of England, with
figures showing a significant fall in number of people in England and
Wales who describe themselves as Christian.
According to the last
census, the number of believers fell by 4.1 million between 2001 and
2011, a drop of ten per cent.
"We are falling in numbers and there is a change in the attitude to
the Christian faith generally across the country. That is
unquestionable. We need to be quite realistic about that," the
Archbishop told BBC Radio 4's Today programme in December, before
commending fresh expression churches for "behaving differently [but]
carrying the same message".
The research revealed today will also show that fresh expressions are incredibly diverse in nature.
"There is no one way to do them," notes the Church Army, perhaps indicating that their success lies in their adaptability.
On the other end of the spectrum of tradition, however, cathedrals
are also reporting a season of growth, especially in midweek attendance.
Overall, weekly attendance has grown by a staggering 35% between 2002
and 2012, underlining the notion that different kinds of services are
needed to appeal to the broad range of people in Britain.
"There is no single recipe for growth; there are no simple solutions
to decline," notes Professor David Voas, quantitative sociologist of
religion and Professor of Population Studies at the University of Essex,
who was part of the team that carried out the research.
"The road to growth depends on the context, and what works in one
place may not work in another. What seems crucial is that congregations
are constantly engaged in reflection; churches cannot soar on
autopilot," he stressed.
In response to this new growth from within different areas of the
church, Archbishop Welby has commented that "the Church is – more than
it has been for the last 60 years – demonstrating how essential it is to
hold together our society".
He attributes the new growth to the grace of God, noting that everything is in his hands.
"God is faithful. He has shown that in Jesus Christ, and He shows
that to us every day in our lives - and in the lives of our churches
together. But He calls on us to be his feet, his hands, his mouth, his
eyes, his ears, who listen to and serve and love the people around us,
who above all witness to the reality of the love of Jesus Christ."
Church Army's research concludes an 18 month systematic and
multi-method study into growth in the Anglican community, but Church
leaders have promised to continue looking into how the Church can best
serve its communities, and how it can continue to grow its presence
across the UK.