warning: bit of a soapbox post!
There was some great researched published yesterday on church growth in the Church of England. George Lings and others outline the findings on the video and you can read a summary online and download a fuller version.
The headlines that have grabbed me:
Fresh Expressions of church are clearly furthering the mission of the Church of England
small is good … most fresh expressions are around or under 40 so they show a certain quality of community with a real sense of belonging
Fresh Expressions of church really are reaching new people that other churches do not reach at all.
After 6 years of ordained life as a pioneer of hearing that the Fresh Expressions ‘thing’ was going to be cut, or of hearing from others that I just get to do all the fun stuff which others with ‘real’ churches would love to do (I still heard that even this week!), or of being told that I do nothing different, or of being guilt laden by those who tell me I should do more baptisms or services, and of course of hearing that there is no finance to support Fresh Expressions because they are a ‘risk’ …. this report excites me, gives me hope, restores my faith in the establishment and expresses what we have known for some time….
Fresh Expressions of church just work!
And they work not because they are better than established or inherited church models (we need both – that’s what mixed economy means), nor because people leading Fresh Expressions are better leaders (that’s what the Body of Christ in 1 Cor 12 is all about), nor is it that God favours or blesses one type of church over another (that’s what Genesis, Image of God and Abrahamic blessing stuff is all about) …
Fresh Expressions of Church simply work because leaders of Fresh Expressions, like other leaders, work with integrity, they, like other leaders listen to God and to the prevailing culture, but their particular gift, unlike other leaders (that 1 Cor 12 thing again …. God made us to work together in variety) is to create something that matters and meets a particular group of people that other churches don’t. In our particular case, the gathering has taken 5 years to grow from 0 to around 20; 15 of which did not attend any church before they found the gathering.
So my plea …. encourage pioneers that you know. For years they have been looked down upon and viewed with suspicion. Those involved make great sacrifices (over half work unpaid – many actually giving up paid ministry or work to develop their community – and find other jobs to pay the bills). Often, by the very nature of the work, they are lonely, vulnerable and in risky contexts and can think regularly about giving up as idea after idea fails until something clicks (remember Edison and his 1000 attempts at the lightbulb!?)
Prayer and encouragement … on that I sign of ….. peace be with you.