Groundbreaking research from the Sheffield Centre has revealed that fresh expressions of church in the diocese of Liverpool are growing faster, deeper and wider than was previously thought. The research, revealed at a major Liverpool diocesan conference on growth, shows that fresh expressions of church are now a major part of the growth of the diocese.
These fresh expressions involve significant numbers of all ages in both rural and urban settings with forms of church that reach into the wider community. The research also highlights and increasing number of maturing expressions of church with a sacramental base.
The research reveals that:
- there are 78 expressions – nearly 36% of our church communities are fresh expressions of church;
- 54 expressions have been planted in the last 5 or 6 years showing this is a growing trend;
- they have a membership of 1679 adults and 1027 children;
- for every one committed Christian involved in these types of church four new people have been attracted;
- they cover a range of locations across our diocese with 25% in challenging urban districts, 20% in suburban areas and just under 20% in rural settings;
- they are reaching beyond the church community with significant numbers coming who don't have any church background at all. The figures in fact show that 41% of members have never been to church while a further 30% come because of their dissatisfaction with traditional church;
- they are significant and maturing expressions of church 46% had communion services – 20% have held baptisms;
- over half of these expressions are led by lay people [not vicars or other ordained people].
The independent research was carried out by George Lings and his team from the Sheffield Centre over three months earlier this year. It was conducted through phone interviews with leaders across the diocese. The research excluded some expressions that the researchers felt could not be considered true expressions of church but they were surprised by the breadth and depth of the results.
Liverpool has long been considered a leader in this area and this research has confirmed the significance that fresh expressions is making in the diocesan approach to what the Archbishop of Canterbury calls the 'mixed economy of church'.
The Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Rev James Jones told the conference on Saturday (16th June 2012),
The pattern that is emerging in this diocese is that we are committed to the inherited church with its visible network of over 200 parishes and also to pioneering with nearly 80 fresh expressions of church which are having a genuine impact in reaching a new generation of people.
Linda Jones, Team Leader for Church Growth, added,
The diocese of Liverpool has been committed to growth in both inherited and fresh expressions of church. The fact that official figures and this research have shown that this is starting to bear fruit is something we thank God for. It is clearly time to regard fresh expressions as a serious, sustainable form of church.
George Lings commented,
This research shows a solid base for the continuing support of fresh expressions as part of the mixed economy of church. What was striking was that the people we talked to were encouraged that they were being taken seriously.
Graham Cray, Fresh Expressions team leader, added,
I am delighted to hear of the growth in the diocese of Liverpool, and the impressive number of fresh expressions of church. The diverse range of people and settings with which they engage is equally impressive. This is the result of the diocese's clear commitment to growth through a mixed economy approach, to the excellent work of their Growth Team and pioneer ministers, and of many parishes in recent years.
This is a clear indication that many dioceses can grow in the same way, if they give the mixed economy a similar priority. Fresh expressions of church have become a vital part of the Church of England's mission to the nation.
This research has been recognised as having national implications with the Church Commissioners funding the Sheffield Centre to do similar work in other dioceses.
The Growth Conference was part of the diocese of Liverpool's ongoing commitment to the Bishop's Growth Agenda. This was prompted by a Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod in 2009 where Bishop James challenged the diocese to reflect on three questions:
- How can we grow numerically and spiritually?
- How can we serve our communities better?
- How we can rekindle our love for God?
In a keynote address to the conference, Bishop James said,
It is a source of thankfulness to God that I can tell you today we are a growing Diocese. In both children and adults, across the entire week, during the week, Sunday by Sunday and growing faster, wider and deeper than we thought.