Fresh Expressions exists not just as a vision for the future, but a present reality. This movement is the church today as well as providing hope for the future.
To illustrate this, tet me introduce you to the picture of the Fresh Expressions movement painted by ‘The Day of Small Things’ by George Lings/Church Army (2016) and funded by the Church Commissioners.
In the study conducted between 2012 and 2016, 1109 young Fresh Expressions of Church were identified in 21 Dioceses with 50,600 people attending. Lings describes this as the equivalent of “two small dioceses” (Lings 2016 pg.10.) The communities average around 50 people per Fresh Expression with three quarters of them having begun in the last ten years. Lings argues persuasively that “nothing else, as a whole in the Church of England has this level of missional impact and the adding of further ecclesial communities, thereby fueling ecclesial re-imagination” (Lings 2016 pg.10.)
One of the most quoted details of the research is the impact of these new churches outside the normal reach of Parish churches. When examined these new churches were comprised of 40% existing Christians, 27% De-churched people and 33% Non-churched people (Lings 2016 page 9/10.) This shows that on face value, Fresh Expressions of Church may be meeting their desired outcome to reach unchurched and dechurched people.
If you want to reach unchurched or dechurched people in your mission, Fresh Expressions may well be the most effective way to do this.
Mission Shaped Church and Ling’s study identify twenty recognisable types of Fresh Expressions of Church. Of these, four types stand out as the most popular or regularly used. These are Café Church, Messy Church, Child-focused Churches and Church Plants (Lings 2016 pg.40.)
Lings research also leads us to a central question. Why are some models more effective than others and how do these models gain effectiveness? Lings notes that some Dioceses have specialties e.g. Ely with Café Church, Cell/Youth in Carlisle or Messy Churches in Exeter. It is unlikely there is more of a propensity of Café’s in Ely, more young people in Carlisle or more families in Exeter so these specialties are unlikely to contextually based. Instead, are models formed because of skill sets in a Diocese? Or preference of leadership?
In thinking about starting your own Fresh Expression try to think firstly about what suits the context and community you’re in. However, God might also speak to you through the skills you have and the experience your Diocese has in certain ways of creating church.
Do share your thoughts on these ideas.