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Church Army research on fresh expressions: response to criticism

by
28 November 2014

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From Canon George Lings

Sir, - The Revd Dr Stephen Brian raises questions about the Church Army report on fresh expressions of church (Letters, 21 November), which was commissioned, tested and approved by an inspection body of the church-growth programme of the Church Commissioners. We are glad that we have an open Church in which questions can be raised, and imagine that your readers may like to know our reply within the confines of the letters page.

Perhaps his substantive point is that the report is based on the leaders' opinion and not that of the participants. There are four interlocking responses to this.

First, we have always been clear this was an acknowledged limitation because of the size of the task, and in all public presentations we have made that point. Second, we thought it plausible that the leaders' view had some substance. They are also participants, they lead small young churches of, on average, only 44 people, and pastorally they would have some grounded view of their people's stories. Third, on page 102, we specifically recommended that the leaders' view should be tested, and are glad to tell your readers that the Church Commissioners concurred, and this work is now under way. We will report on this evidence in 2016. Fourth, we need to remember that many of our national attendance statistics are sourced from leaders, in this case clergy and churchwardens. The search for utterly impregnable data is an elusive one.

We think we can clear up a misunderstanding expressed in his letter. It is the difference between an outreach project and a fresh expression of Church. Dr Brian is right that beginning a fresh expression of Church does involve outreach, and, in most cases, came from an existing parish church. The criteria as a whole, however, make clear that it is not only that.

A fresh expression of Church has both missional and ecclesial identity. The process begins a further church, which exists distinct from, but related to, that parish church. This is itself not new, and was common in the 1930s and 1950s with what then were called daughter churches. We comment on this key difference between what is only an outreach project and a fresh expression of church more fully at the top of page 82 and in the summary bullets of page 83.

Your readers may like to know that the parameter of the majority of members seeing it as their church derives from research over 15 years into particular stories. One recurring strand of feedback has been listening to those without a church background coming to a realisation that surprised them, that what they were attending was church.

We are very keen not to over-claim in this research, glad to comment on questions raised, still on course to make known what has been found, and wanting to discover more.

GEORGE LINGS

Director of Church Army Research
Church Army
Wilson Carlile Centre
50 Cavendish Street
Sheffield S3 7RZ

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