Yesterday there was a day put on by the Church of England presenting research into church growth. The research has been a huge undertaking and will be talked about for a while and shape the way strategy and funding are directed (I hope). There were two headlines that stood out for me.
Fresh expressions of church are making an impact!
Youth ministry is connected to growing churches.
On the first you can read a good summary here and the whole report is available to download and digest – a summary of the whole is here. 10 dioceses have been researched and together those fresh expressions equate to adding a whole new diocese to the church. Half of them are lay led. The average size is 44 people, and they are connecting with younger people and families a lot better than the whole church.
On the second it’s a reminder of how foolish the church is to cut youth ministry posts which always seem to be the first to go in difficult times in dioceses!
The fresh expressions story is so encouraging to have put so starkly in figures. The overall pattern of the church is decline. But even so there are many doubters and sceptics who have chosen to ignore or mock fresh expressions. But it’s time to wake up! This is good news for the church and we need more of it.
And guess what – training pioneers is going to be a key factor into the future. There was a summary of key factors associated with growth and I tweeted somewhat cheekily that it sounds like our pioneer training curriculum is exactly what is required if you want leaders who are going to be reflective, mission focused, innovative, risk taking, open to change, with vision, developing teams, have a high value on hospitality, are engaging with those outside of church and so on.
Will this change the church’s view on pioneers? I hope so. It still feels like the church says ‘we want pioneers’ but in practice makes life pretty difficult to be selected, to be deployed, to be resourced, to be released and so on. The gravity always seems to be pulling in the direction of business as usual. Pretty much every week I am faced with a story of a pioneer facing a difficult situation in the church that is now saying in evidence we need you!
The same is true of youth ministry which is in a difficult moment – I also hope this is a wake up call on supporting and encouraging all of the brilliant youth ministers, centre for youth ministry and so on. And I particularly have a soft spot for those who combine the two – pioneering in youth ministry through the likes of streetspace.