Kim's Blog

Fresh Expressions and the Church

Huge research was published yesterday into the impact of Fresh Expressions in ten Diocese over the last ten years. It is the most comprehensive information we have to date and will take a while to process all the implications and recommendations. I will blog about it over the next few weeks as I get through it all. For now, here is the summary of the late addition to the party – the Diocese of Gloucester, added late and so full findings not yet available, so a summary is included. We took part in this research in the diocese so it is interesting that this is what they conclude about Gloucester, and it will be interesting to see if any shift in policy or on the ground from the Bishop is made as a result.

Also interesting timing in that it chimes with recent statement from the ABC Justin Welby a few weeks ago about church growth and how we achieve it (his view was that a good vicar would mean a church grew; this worried me a little as the picture is surely more complex than that in terms of reaching people who are totally unchurched.

However this report seems to indicate that some of the people starting up new forms view church in terms of its practices and therefore some are mainly motivated by the desire to perpetuate practices in their new forms of church. This feels a very narrow ecclesiology, even for the CofE, failing to take account of community, relationships, redemption and restoration, eschatology, social justice etc. (When we participated in this research, we were asked for our motivation but it had to tick a pre established list of possibilities, of which the aforementioned were not present. The options seemed to be the perpetuation of existing practises or reaching new people groups. I was insistent about a Trinitarian outflowing as a motivation, leading to participation in eschatology, but this was not allowed!) However it is always worth noting that some – perhaps more traditional – Anglicans believe these things come about through the liturgy, Eucharist and other practices that gather people in, disciple and transform them, which may explain the emphasis on practices as the means of transmission.

I think these things give us a snapshot of where we are in church history; the need to do new things in mission is beginning to be accepted more broadly but is still seen as a tool to continue the life of the old ways. The radical nature and ambition of some fx’s are not being acknowledged yet. We are also participating in some research by a PhD student which will address how fx are being involved in social transformation and this will hopefully look at the more edgy and transformative stuff.

Anyway, here you go: Summary and main report found here, plus discussion thread. Jonny Baker has also blogged on this today although I haven’t read that yet.

Appendix Eight: A brief report on the 11th diocese: Gloucester
Some characteristics of Gloucester Diocese:  At 557 people/sq mile, it is the second least populated diocese we have looked at, after Norwich with 483 people/sq mile.  In terms of AWA it is average in attendance size, yet only three other dioceses of smaller size have more churches.  This largely rural diocese, with some towns, serves a  population that has increased by 7% from 2006-11, but its AWA has decreased by 7% in the same period. None the less it is still third highest out of 43 in a league table of the percentage of population attending and the highest we have worked with.  This paints a snapshot of traditional Anglican strength, now showing signs of waning.

The fxC overall contribution:  If the fxC numbers are included in the 2011 AWA of 21200 then the 729 attendance at fxC is but 3.4% of the diocese. The diocese has 388 churches. If the 23 fxC are included in the diocese number of churches (which from the national returns looks unlikely) then fxC are 5.9% of the churches. Both of these are the lowest we have yet seen. It may mean the diocese still thinks fxC are generally not needed.

Ways in which the Gloucester fxC are typical : There are the same proportions as the average across the previous ten dioceses in relation to: the percentage of people thought to be characteristic of the area, those who are mainly or totally drawn from networks, the examples that don’t meet on a Sunday, those that meet weekly, and the sizes of teams sent.   We note that in both Norwich and Gloucester the female leaders most outnumber the males at 61% to 39% but do not know why. (note from Kim: because in the main pioneer posts are not funded? The remaining research shows paid leaders are mostly male. Also due to a more catholic ecclesiology in the Diocese it has been late to the party of Fx. Now making up for it in terms of positivity, but still no funding.)

Encouragements in the Gloucester set of fxC : They have notably higher than average levels of sacramental practice (Communion 43.5%, Baptism 47.8%, Confirmation 43.5%).

This might correlate to Gloucester having the 2nd highest proportion of examples that identify with the Catholic tradition. More of the fxC are taking some steps in discipleship, compared to the average.  Three factors suggest some welcome pioneering.74% of the fxC felt that they were in a pioneering situation (average 62%), the most frequent motive that led them to start was identifying an unreached people group and their proportion of ordained pioneers is high. It might also link to them having the second highest proportion of lay led examples.

(NB: If they are lay led, yet being the most sacramental, this would suggest the strong co-operation with clergy from somewhere, to allow the saramentality – OR and this is unlikely in the extreme – there are lay people who are presiding at communion and baptising and confirming people! I’m sure its the former and not the latter; this is interesting to me as it indicates cross-vocational collaboration and will be able to change the culture of the church in ways that relate to mission and inclusion, whilst allowing the fx to draw on the wider traditions of the church, which their previously unchurched members may appreciate too.)  

Signs of vulnerability in the Gloucester fxC : They appear to be more marginal numerically to the life of the diocese and of smaller size than elsewhere, though this reflects that 29% of them occur in a rural or semi-rural setting. At them, there are slightly more Christians than average at the fxC and equally less de-churched people. The 17% mortality rate is the highest yet. (This is a worry and needs unpacking further in the Diocese perhaps) 

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