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The Day of Small Things – Church Army

November 15, 2016

tdostMORE than 50,600 people attend Fresh Expressions of Church across half of the dioceses in the Church of England.

A resh Expressions is defined as a “new gathering or network that engages mainly with people who have never been to church”.

There are currently more than 3400 of all denom­inations across the UK, of, which more than half, about 1922, are C of E.

It analyses about 1100 of these, across 21 dioceses in the Church of England, including London, in 233 pages.

It suggests that there are about 20 different types, with an average weekly attendance of 50 people (up from 44 two years ago), and that about nine per cent have a congregation, of 100 or more. Of all those surveyed in the report, 61 per cent were between the ages of 15 and 55. There was also a higher number on poorer council estates.

“No one of these small young churches is going to make a dent in a century of ecclesial numerical decline,” the director of Church Army Research, Canon George Lings, warned. They could, how­ever, contribute to “a reforming re-imagination” of the Church in the spirit of the Renewal and Reform vision, not least in the emergence of 574 “lay-lay” leaders who have no official authorisation or training in the Church of England.

Liberals and Anglo Catholics account for about 18% – the rest are mostly evangelical, though some have elements of many traditions..

Facts that have emerged from the research are:

  • there are four times as many fxC starting up now compared to a decade ago;
  • only 10 percent of attenders transferred from another local church, so it’s a myth that fxC mainly “steal” members of traditional church congregations;
  • FxC attenders are much younger than the control group of parishes surveyed, with an average age of 25-34 against the average age of 65 for parish church attenders;
  • FxC have a strong presence on England’s poorer housing estates.


The title reflects a view of today’s context and the report’s content.

Some will immediately recognise it is part of a quotation from Zechariah 4:10 which is a text from the exilic period. The relevance of this is that there is writing, across the theological spectrum, arguing that, within Europe, the Church of England finds itself in a period that could be called post-Christendom. As a Church we find ourselves once more at the edge rather than the centre of society, at its margins rather than in power or control. Exilic texts address such a context.

This attendance of 50,600 is the equivalent to the numbers in two average sized dioceses.

Their average size, at about 50, is usually smaller than the average for parish church congregations. Hence the percentage of churches figure is higher than that for attendance.

While 43% have held a communion service, in some fxC this is very occasional and undoubtedly the likelihood of communion goes down with reduction of frequency of meeting.

37% of the fxC have had baptisms, which is also affected by frequency.

56% are taking some steps towards responsibility for their finances and 70% for how they are led, but only 39% have some element of self-reproducing.

Very few fxC have any legal status within the Church of England, which is one source of vulnerability.

28% continue to grow numerically and a further 55% broadly maintain the growth gained.

The latter group can also be called a plateau

There is a tendency for the leaders to be optimistic and a demonstrable need for them to be more aware of who is actually coming so that they may remain effective in mission.

 If the leaders’ views are uniformly somewhat rosy, the Church needs to be aware that not all fxC perform as well as others.

 It should not be assumed that all those attending are now convinced Christians. As written in 2013, they are a new, large, relationally based fringe; this grouping in John Finney’s research 20 years ago11 was found to be the most fruitful over time.

 Any progress in contacting the non-churched is to be celebrated. It could be the English Church’s most pressing mission field, because it is increasing over time, as so few children and young people have a Christian upbringing.

 The percentage of those under 16 at fxC is encouraging. This high attendance figure could make the contribution of the fxC towards both the present and the future life of the Church of England yet more significant.

Our research into London diocese and its results were fed back to the senior staff of London diocese with our overall comment that it has two sets of young churches. One set was the church plants with their evident strength but lower than expected missional impact. The other was all the other types of fxC. They were more frail, still in greater ecclesial immaturity, but with more contacts with the non-churched. Both sets needed to be valued but encouraged differently.

fxC make up around 15% of the churches across the dioceses.

Over 9% of people attending in a diocese are attenders at an fxC.

unrealistic to expect all the young churches to continue to grow in size. For some this will be seen as a weakness in this movement.

However, this prevalence could connect to the postulated ‘natural unit size or range’. This is not merely an academic question of data analysis. If there is any truth in this idea, it ushers in a further important question, but with an unknown answer: If a type of fxC reaches its natural unit size or range and has plateaued, what should happen?

In past decades, influenced by Church Growth school thinking, an assumed answer was that any local church could grow larger in size. This would be either by addressing the quality of what we might call its ‘public services’ – whether that be its building facilities, worship style and diversity, welcome quality or pastoral care. – or it could do it by changing the leadership style, and underlying philosophy of ministry, say from pastor to manager, and thereby removing the constraint on growth the prior model was unconsciously enforcing.

In a day that has seen the effects of 1000+ young churches in 21 dioceses, another option is to respect the natural size reached and to ask what next should come to birth. Of course, this will be affected by leadership resources available, but getting beyond the 46% plateau is an important question for the wider Church from this research.

In network churches, alternative worship and community development plants, the dominance of ordained over lay is less marked than that of male leaders being more common than female. Two types that move away from the two nameable leader stereotypes (that is, the male ordained leader and the female lay leader) are the clusters and youth congregations. While across the two fxC types more are male led, they are significantly lay led (cluster 72% and youth 68%).

This is the most common type (33% of included cases), more than twice as common as café churches and towards three times as common as church plants. Messy Churches score highly in drawing the non-churched, less than average for the de-churched and among the lowest for drawing existing Christians. They mainly start to provide diversity and to contact unreached people groups, attracting only slightly more children than adults. Most start-up teams are of 3-12 people, but they are the most likely to choose the rarer size of 13-19. They have a high net growth ratio, but having reached a certain size, nearly half will plateau. 89% remain within the sending parish, dominantly draw from the neighbourhood, and 87% meet monthly.

Three quarters of the leaders are female, mainly lay and more than average lay-lay.

They are neither a totally urban nor rural phenomenon. Nor are they exclusively for affluent or impoverished areas. Secondly, the distribution of fxC is not even; however, the proportions of people living in these different contexts is not even either, with a propensity for people being in urban areas. Furthermore, the fxC are not the same size in the different areas.

café church as one example of a type that is likely to be found across all the 11 kinds of social area, with additional note that its attraction in rural areas is marked, but curiously less so in the suburbs. All age worship is another type with a broad distribution quite like this.

By contrast, the community development plants are shown to be most likely in the two urban areas with the more glaring community needs. This is not to say that there are not profound social needs in rural areas

network church is a designation most commonly associated in the city centres where parochial boundaries have little significance, and is above its average in urban and town areas, where again the need to overflow parish boundaries can apply. Alternative worship is another type with a very strong showing in the city centre locations, as is special interest group

historic Anglican parochial instincts for territory alone should be modified to this extent, paying attention to contextual variation.

the ethnic mix was typical of their area.

The catholic tradition is stronger in the city centre and on mixed estates, then in the towns and suburbs. But overall it is only the 4th most commonly acknowledged tradition. The liberal tradition is owned most in city centre fxC

fxC which serve council estates are the most vulnerable and even private estates are above the average.

Messy Churches normally choose a monthly frequency, as do a narrow majority of older people’s church.

among the monthly examples over half of them have communion annually, or less often; anecdotal examples of this would include Messy Churches that have a messy Maundy Thursday communion.

the differences between those who have been on msm and those who have taken no training is negligible.

While there has been more than a century of licensed lay leaders, like Readers and Church Army Evangelists, and they are represented within these figures, it is more noteworthy that there are three times as many lay-lay leaders as ‘professional’ lay leaders. We do not know of any comparable feature among the inherited expressions of Church, and the lay-lay are one distinctive contribution made by the fxC to the overall life of the Church.

However, in broad terms the missional effectiveness of the fxC they lead is comparable to that of their ‘professional’ counterparts, and they engage with a greater proportion of non-churched attenders. In addition, while non lay-lay leaders on average lead larger fxC, lay-lay leaders have grown their fxC from smaller sending teams and have greater growth ratios than their professionally trained counterparts.

disturbing tendency for increased use of any new label that becomes popular to be in inverse proportion to accurate understanding of its meaning. The same could be said for the use of the word ‘mission’ in parish and diocesan literature. It is almost now there by default, and as has been said: ‘when everything is mission, nothing is’.

False assumptions to avoid

Buying an fxC off the shelf really works. It can be done, but it is usually a mistake. We urge readers not to slavishly copy, or replicate, what others have done.

Only big urban congregations can do this. We have seen fxC started even by small rural churches, which went well.

It takes a team of 50 to do it properly. This is not true. The most common adult team size is 3-12 people (see section 6.8). The evidence of subsequent growth in size and maturity is not mainly dependent on team size.

Only evangelicals can do this. Again this is not true; all traditions can do this (see sections 5.3 and 6.19), but it is wise to consider what type of fxC each church can work with in integrity.

Laying on an act of worship is the best starting point. A steady flow of reflective writing commends a longer process of loving and serving people, making relationships that naturally include spiritual conversations and only then evolving public worship.

All fxC do the same job. The evidence in Chapter 6 denies this. They could be likened to related but different members within a large family. All the types have attendant strengths and weaknesses; they take different resources and have different natural unit sizes.

The point is to get new people to the main church. That can be a by-product, but it is not the aim. The call is to add to the diversity and number of interdependent churches, in order to express the mission and kingdom of God.

The LGBT fresh expression of Church is a haven for the oppressed. Some of them have had really bad experiences of church

The report is available here

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