Fresh Expressions of Church now make up 15% of a diocese’s church community and twice as many young people attend Fresh Expressions compared to conventional services. These are just two key facts to come out of a set of four reports released by the Church Army in November 2016.
There are many different types of Fresh Expression but the most popular are Messy Church, Café Church, child-focused Church and church plants. All seek to go out and engage with people who do not currently attend church, communicating with them at a time and in a place which fits in with their lifestyle.
According to the reports, four times as many Fresh Expressions per year are now being started compared to 10 years ago, and nationwide over 50,000 people are now reckoned to attend them. 40% of those attending are under the age of 16.
St Paul’s, Dorking is a good example of Café Church in the diocese. It takes place on the first Sunday of the month with juice, hot chocolate, tea & coffee, croissants and cakes. The setting is around café tables with music playing and Sunday newspapers to enjoy. All are welcome and there is plenty of noise and conversation, with toys and play mats for babies and toddlers and lots for children to do.
The Revd Ruth Bushyager, vicar of St Paul’s, says: “Café Church is one of the ways in which we try to make church as accessible as possible. It’s very informal, with a range of creative craft stations set up around the church. From clay, textiles, glue and glitter, we make all kinds of things that have meaning linked to our Bible memory verse and teaching theme of the week. At our painting station contributors paint a giant work of art aiming to have it ready by the end of the service.”
The congregation then gathers together for a short time of worship to sing, watch a video clip and hear a short, thought-provoking talk on the memory verse. The atmosphere is lively and suitable for all ages and stages of life and faith.
The Church of the Holy Spirit in Burpham holds a monthly Messy Church, usually on a Saturday afternoon. It is aimed at families with under 11s accompanied by a parent or grandparent and explores faith through crafts, fun and mess! After the crafts (45 minutes) there is an interactive informal service (25 minutes) and then tea for all with sandwiches and cakes.
The Revd Jo Levasier, joint vicar of Burpham, says: “Our Messy Church is really starting to develop a feeling of community and attract more regular participants. It works very well for families where one or both of the parents feel a strong spiritual pull, but perhaps would not yet call themselves believers. Messy Church is a place where they can bring their families and engage with God in an enjoyable and unthreatening way. We now run the all-age worship section with the church laid out café style, and encourage parents to take part in worship activities with their children. This year we had a Messy Fireworks event for the first time and had over 100 people engaging in ‘remembering’ prayer activities before enjoying tea and a low-key fireworks display.”
There are already 77 Fresh Expressions of Church taking place in the Diocese of Guildford and the drive for more forms an important part of the diocese’s commitment to create 100 new worshipping communities over 10 years, as part of the Transforming Church, Transforming Lives vision.
Jens Mankel, who has recently been appointed church planting and Fresh Expressions adviser for the diocese, says: “These reports by the Church Army and our own experience in the diocese to date provide encouragement to all who are involved in Fresh Expressions of Church and those who are thinking of starting one.
“The reports make it clear that Fresh Expressions are not just a fringe phenomenon, but they have a firm place within the landscape of the Church of England and play an important role in defining the Church of the future.”
- The four reports, Day of Small Things, Who’s There? Sustaining Young Churches and What happens after research can be downloaded from the Church Army website www.churcharmy.org