There’s nothing like a pie chart to get our Fresh Expression hearts a-fluttering. Data – lots of it – facts and figures, slices and colours showing trends and declines. Ooh, we love it… Suffice to say, when confronted with a set of pie charts and line graphs recently showing numbers and attendance of Methodists engaging with Fresh Expressions it didn’t take long before we were reaching for our calculators and thinking caps – what do these figures show us, and what does it mean for Fresh Expressions in 2017?
Time to hit you with some numbers. In 2015 the average weekly attendance of Methodists at Fresh Expressions was around 30,000 – showing an increase of nearly 5,000 people since 2012. That means that 12-13% of all Methodists attending a weekly form of worshipping community are in Fresh Expressions… and that means that this is a statistic worth paying attention to. If such a sizeable and growing number of Methodists are engaged in Fresh Expressions what can we learn as a movement as we seek to provide resources and share learning?
This is a question that Graham Horsley, Methodist Fresh Expressions Missioner, says the church is rising to; “We now face the positive challenge of integrating new ways of being church into our existing circuits. We’re seeking to maximise the effectiveness of both traditional and new ways of being church, and help them to complement one another.”
Of course, these figures – juicy as they are – come with the inevitable health warning that Fresh Expressions are largely self-defining, and to some degree the numbers can be skewed by this lack of clarity. However, there is certainly an upward trend in overall numbers of (self-declared) Fresh Expression ministries within the Methodist Church as well as numbers of those attending, and knowing and sharing these key trends is important. They point to the growing desire to connect with expressions of church which resonate contextually, theologically and in practical ways – and the continuing need for movements such as Fresh Expressions to provide support as established churches rise to this positive challenge.
Meanwhile, the Methodist statisticians are continuing to dig further into their numbers through qualitative research which will shed further light on the emerging situation. The fruits of this work won’t be available until 2018, but us Fresh Expression stat-watch geeks will be watching with interest to see what new findings emerge, and – crucially – what we can do to resource the developing work.
Article by Hannah Skinner