The Methodist Church is encouraged by the growth of new forms of church, especially those under the banners of Venture FX and Fresh Expressions.
Recent statistics show that over 40,000 people attend some form of fresh expression church at least monthly. Fresh Expressions, a joint venture with the Church of England and others, also works alongside a large number of Christian organisations, denominations and streams - both in the UK and overseas.
The Venture FX project of the Methodist Church has helped create 13 projects around the country since its launch in 2009, with six more launching in the last year. Ian Bell, Venture FX Coordinator, says,
From Bermondsey to Colwyn Bay, from Plymouth to Edinburgh, pioneers both lay and ordained are grasping the opportunity to share the gospel where people are.
The statistics show steady growth in all forms of fresh expressions, including café church and messy church. Recent figures from the Church of England show about 30,000 people attending fresh expressions of church who are not otherwise counted in church attendance figures. For most Methodist forms of fresh expression, a clear majority of those taking part do not otherwise attend church.
Says Ian Bell,
Both our figures and those for the Church of England clearly show the success of reaching out to people in new forms of church, alongside the traditional forms that still attract hundreds of thousands of participants each week. The next step, in the words of Martyn Atkins, is to make the exotic and exceptional become normal and natural. The future of the Church does not lie in any one expression of it, but in living and sharing God's love in all parts of our lives. As Venture FX and Fresh Expressions grow and develop further, what we learn from them is a gift to the whole church.
Bishop Graham Cray, Archbishops' Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team, adds,
It's inspiring to think that we have seen the development of some 2,000 fresh expressions of church in the Church of England and Methodist Church since the publication of the 2004 Mission-shaped Church report.
The Holy Spirit has been at work in reaching thousands of people through these fresh expressions and we are all running to keep up. This is hugely encouraging but it is just a beginning and there is much more to do. Fresh expressions of church are one vital factor but there is a long haul ahead of us.