13% of Methodists attend Fresh Expressions? We can’t resist a figure like that…

Thursday, 9 March, 2017

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

Comments

What happened to overall numbers of people attending a "weekly form of worshipping community" over that same time period? Or, to put it another way, is this just a matter of existing worshippers putting on new hats and calling their services 'fresh expressions' or is it a genuine case of Fresh Expressions attracting previously unchurched attendees?

The short answer is we don't know!

We know overall numbers are down.
Are they drifting to fresh expressions, drifting away from church all together, promoted to glory?

That's precisely the question our qualitative research is hoping to answer.

we're fairly confident that a lot of them are new worshippers - this time next year we'll have a lot more clarity on this.

Are these numbers for England? Europe as a whole? Thanks!

These numbers are for British Methodism (England Scotland and Wales - Northern Ireland is in the Irish Methodist Conference) and are now 18 months out of date - should be getting the 2016 figures very soon.
Europe has a number of autonomous conferences, most of which link with the United Methodist Church in the USA rather than British Methodism - all part of our intriguing history.

Thanks for the clarification. I am a UMC pastor doing a fresh expression type ministry with my college ministry/coffee shop in Savannah, Georgia. I am very intrigued by what is happening in England and continental Europe with Fresh Expressions and other creative forms of ministry. It is my dream/long term plan to join the movement over there!

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