Sunday, January 26, 2014

Resourcing new forms of church must be 'priority', says Fresh Expressions leader

The Archbishops' Missioner and outgoing leader of the Fresh Expressions team has expressed his delight over recent figures revealing growth in the Church of England, but cautioned that statistics do not always tell the whole story.

Bishop Graham Cray was responding to figures out last week showing 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.

"There is certainly little point in being involved in Christian ministry which does not bear fruit; however exciting it may seem," he wrote on the Fresh Expressions website.

Calling for continued commitment to developing new forms of church, he added: "There is still a long way to go."

The Fresh Expressions movement is a joint partnership between the Church of England and Methodist Church. It aims to engage especially with those who would not usually consider attending a traditional church, and seeks to show that worship can take all kinds of different forms.

Some fresh expressions meet in more unusual locations such as pubs or bars, though many use church buildings and take a more informal approach to services.

An estimated 21,000 people attend fresh expressions in the 10 surveyed areas of the 44 Church of England Dioceses, and 66 per cent are either growing in number or maintaining their congregation size.

With the non-churched being the largest and fastest growing group in the British population, Bishop Cray said it was "particularly encouraging" that the non-churched accounted for 40 per cent of people attending fresh expressions.

The figures, compiled by Church Army, indicate that churches are successfully finding ways of adapting to the needs of their local communities.

"Appropriateness to local context is the key and different models connect better with different social groups," said Bishop Cray.

"Fresh expressions are proving to be an effective means to church growth in the member churches.

Bishop Cray said the indications of growth "offer hope to all denominations and traditions engaged in this ministry".

"It is bearing fruit, most particularly in the many lives represented by these statistics," he noted, before urging the Church of England to place "renewed priority" and extra emphasis on resourcing and financing new forms of church.

The research concludes an 18-month study into growth in the Anglican community, but leaders have promised to continue to look into how the Church can best serve its communities, and continue to grow its presence across the UK.

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