AS THE 12 years of my involvement with fresh expressions of
church have progressed, the issues of leadership, and the language
of "pioneering", have become increasingly central to my thinking
The Church Army's Research Unit study on fresh expressions in
ten dioceses reported that 21,000 people attended these new forms
of church - the equivalent of an additional medium-sized diocese.
Some 42 per cent of these people had never been involved in a
church previously, and 44 per cent were under 16 years of age.
For every one person deployed by a parish or deanery to plant a
fresh expression, another 2.5 were added. This is good news, and it
also reveals a new pattern of leadership.
A total of 518 fresh expressions of church were identified on
the basis of a set of criteria which included the presence of "some
form of leadership recognised within and also without".
Just over half are lay-led, two out of three of these being
women. Two-thirds of the ordained leaders are men, who are more
likely to be full-time and paid than the women, who are more likely
to be part-time and voluntary.
Of the lay leaders, there is a growing proportion (almost 80 per
cent) of what the researchers call "lay lay leaders" - by which
they mean "people without formal licensing, and quite possibly
without designated training to lead a fresh expression of church,
who nevertheless are doing so, usually in their spare time".
Interestingly, exactly the same phenomenon is seen in the 2012
statistics of the Methodist Church, which has 46,000 attending
fresh expressions. The Fresh Expressions team is also aware of
examples where a fresh expression which was founded, or led by, a
priest or Church Army evangelist is now under able lay
Anyone exploring ordination in the Church of England, and who is
seen as having a capacity for "oversight", is expected to have an
ability to "pioneer". This is demonstrated by the many clergy who
are also involved in starting and leading an impressive variety of
models of fresh expression.
OVERALL, the Church of England needs and is developing - at
least in part - a more mission-shaped entrepreneurial
The sheer number of "lay lay leaders" helps dispel a myth. Some
parishes fear that planting a fresh expression of church will be
one further demand on the same overworked volunteers. But the
research reveals many new leaders who had not been energised by
calls to staff existing programmes, but by these new missionary
At St George's parish in Deal, a process of prayer and
discernment led to the establishment of a range of missional
communities. "One of the big things has been the whole release of
leaders," the Associate Vicar said. "These people were sitting in
the pews before, but now we have 40 missional leaders who are out
There had been a hidden resource for leadership in mission,
which was now being revealed. The evidence suggests that this could
be true for many more parishes.
The Church Army research team excluded nearly half the examples
considered, because they did not meet strict criteria. Some
projects were primarily for existing churchpeople, while others
were intended as a bridge to existing church rather than the
planting of the new. The sheer scale of the other projects
considered makes it likely that many more "lay lay" leaders are
involved in them as well.
THE key to planting a fresh expression of church is close
attention to culture and local context. It is the need to go and
start the new, not just build bridges to the old, which has shown
the need for a different "gift mix" for contemporary, missional
The inherited understanding of church, and church leadership, in
the UK has never been static, but is substantially shaped by
centuries of Christendom. Mission and ministry within an
essentially Christian environment required pastor teachers much
more than entrepreneurial missionaries.
The current context requires apostolic, prophetic, and
evangelistic gifts, and reshapes expectations of the teaching and
The Church has recognised this to a substantial degree, as seen
in the way that the contemporary ministry context is described in
the literature prepared for those exploring ordination, and in the
selection criteria for Ordained Pioneer Ministers, and Church Army
Evangelists. The gift is different because the ministry is
From one perspective, the responsibility being taken by "lay lay
leaders" is relatively small. Most fresh expressions are planted by
a team ranging in size from three to 30, and the average fresh
expression has a "congregation" of 43 people.
The Church Army's quantitative research cannot provide
full-blown, qualitative evidence of the depth of these new
congregations, or the effectiveness of their leadership. But the
indications are positive.
Thus, there is a whole body of new experience across the Church
which needs to be harvested for the sake of those who will take up
this challenge in the future.
Also, we need to take great care when attempting to offer
training. An over-intellectualised training, delivered by those
with no experience of this ministry, will do more harm than
CANON George Lings and his team identified 21 different models
of fresh expression, and some (Messy Church and Café Church, for
example) have national networks, where resources and training can
The research says that those who had training or prior relevant
experience are more likely to see ongoing growth. To help with
that, the Fresh Expressions website is a primary source of
resources and guidance for good practice, while the report
Fresh Expressions in the Mission of the Church recommended
the "mission-shaped ministry" course as the best form of initial
The research also says that accompaniment, or consultancy, is
the best form of support, but suspects that it is in short
Lay leaders of fresh expressions need some form of recognition
and accountability. One example is the diocese of Leicester's
process of licensing lay pioneers in partnership with the
Northampton Methodist District. Pioneers also need appropriate,
Ordained pioneer ministers (OPMs) represent a small proportion
of the leaders identified in the research, and this is a resource
which the Church of England has not yet learned to deploy to its
In addition to a more pioneering clergy, and many more "lay lay
leaders", the Church of England needs those whose whole vocation is
focused around the planting of the new, and the creation of new
communities where none exist. Our nation will not be re-evangelised
just by parishes reaching a little further into their communities,
vital as this is.
It is not true that all clergy and lay leaders can be pioneers
in this sense. The New Testament teaches that not all have the same
gifts, and social science shows that not everyone can be
entrepreneurial. All parishes, and clergy, need to encourage and
support pioneering gifts when they see them.
Those with the ministry of oversight should never feel
threatened by people who have different gifts, and who can do
things that one particular parish priest cannot.
The emergence of new leaders, and new capacities for missional
leadership on this scale, is a sign of hope for all the
denominations participating in the fresh expressions
The Rt Revd Graham Cray is the Archbishops' Missioner and
leader of the Fresh Expressions team.