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‘Major impact’ of fresh expressions of church: new research

‘Major impact’ of fresh expressions of church: new research

Fresh expressions of church are having a major impact on growth in the Church of England – according to research released on Thursday, January 16, 2014.
The detailed study, involving all fresh expressions of church in 10 dioceses, was carried out by the Church Army’s Research Unit for the Church Commissioners. Canon Dr George Lings, the Unit’s Director, said, ‘Nothing else in the Church of England has this level of missional impact and the effect of adding further ecclesial communities.’ 
Letting the Dogs Out

Yorkshire RTP invite you to a reflective review of

How we engage

with the work of Ordained Pioneer Ministers

A Pilgrimage for Pioneers


To early Christian sites in Ireland

led by Russ Parker and Michael Mitton

7-14th April 2014

Planter's Beware!

Over the years we have seen that those embarking on pioneering something completely new seem to be particularly vulnerable in the process. It seems that planting a new church, initiating a fresh expression of church has its particular dangers.

We first noticed this back over a decade ago when we were shocked by five tragic breakdowns in church planting teams over a two year period. Most of these were team leaders leaving their spouse and leaving the project with another one of the planting team.

Different traditions express the spiritual battle of the Kingdom of God in different ways. But the New Testament is very clear about the reality of the force of evil, of the conflict between darkness and light. Paul knew very well the seriousness of “the warfare we wage…” And Jesus challenged about a broad way that leads to destruction and a narrow path to life.

Our observations over several decades is that while all ministry and mission has its pressures and vulnerability, crossing boundaries, going to where the need seems greater, may be particularly contested. And our reflections have led us to think there may be several reasons for this, some natural and some more spiritual.

Natural Pressures

Ask someone who has started a new business or developed a major project from scratch. They will say that it took concentrated focus, great energy and loads of sacrifice. This is no less true of pioneering in the Kingdom of God. These pressures can lead to burnout or just overwork and this can expose vulnerable areas in our lives.

As well as the demands of single minded focus and exceptional energy, starting from nothing in a new context involves loads of change which can be draining as well as exhilarating. And along with navigating uncharted waters is a higher than normal level of risk. All of these things are challenges to a leader’s inner security. Planting is a melting pot which involves faith being stretched and put to many tests. Disappointments and setbacks can come thick and fast and can easily lead to frustration or disillusionment.

The double-edged blessing of team

At the heart of planting new church or fresh expression is the recovery of the team as the engine of mission. The missionary band is an amazing blessing when all are committed to the unifying vision and sold out to the common objective of a new church. Team members can find their gifts and discover how they complement one another which should be a uniquely fulfilling experience.

But precisely this blessing of the intensity of team relationships and the bonds forged gives the opportunity for inappropriate depth and intimacy to develop if all are not alert to and defending against this possibility. And often the spouse can be as vulnerable as the partner who is ministering alongside another attractive team member.

Here, the factors of pressure and overwork referred to in the previous section can heighten these dangers. Again they are as real for the overworking team leader or member as they may be for the neglected spouse.

Then of course there is also the very real possibility that team relationships that are meant to express the blessings of synergy may in fact produce tensions and fracture instead. The defence is again to do with inner security that is comfortable with difference, combined with a full understanding of team member’s gifts, motivations and personalities.

Spiritual factors

On the unseen level it seems that our enemy, however understood, particularly hates initiatives that break new ground. Somehow it seems that when rather than strengthening an existing church, we move out to seek to occupy some new context, a particular “battle front” opens up. Certainly we see Paul contending with all sorts of opposition without and within as he moved out in his church planting missionary journeys.

We have also noticed a trend that when early planting successes or breakthroughs recieve significant prominence and publicity… a “kick-back” often seems to follow. Whatever the explanation this has proved real enough that whenever we tell the story of a plant or fresh expression of church, we try to remember to pray for them. So this now leads us to look at our responses.

Natural and spiritual answers:


Obviously prayer is our first and most significant response to protect from both the spiritual and natural pressures and pitfalls. As well as prayers of protection we need prayers for wisdom and discernment. Then again as Paul exhorts in Galatians 6, prayer needs to come from taking a clear spiritual stand on the authority we have in Christ and may need to move to a more aggressive dimension of spiritual warfare. 


Both Paul and Peter emphasise the importance of “be on our guard!”. This means both individually and as a team recognising the areas of potential danger and not underestimating their seriousness and subtlety. This will include creating a culture of openness and honesty within the leadership and team. ‘Never underestimate the enemy’ and ‘never relax your guard’ should be watch words.


These safeguards of prayer and preparedness need to be worked out with routines and disciplines, both individually and as a team.

Part of team formation and training should include explaining and exploring the vulnerabilities we have outlined here. And since marital breakdown and unfaithfulness are particular hazards these possibilities should be faced head on and not avoided through embarrassment or false assumtions of strength. Standard texts such as “His needs: Her needs” by William Harley and “Lonely Husbands, Lonely Wives” by Denis Rainey, should be studied and discussed. These explore the cause and chemistry of emotional adultery that precedes breakdown. They highlight the danger signs to be spotted and make the points that:

·         “there are more than one way to have an affair”

·         “if any of a spouses basic needs goes unmet, that spouse becomes vulnerable to the temptation of an affair”

·         “An extramarital affair is basically an escape from reality that begins with feeling lonely, isolated, tired or stressed and ends with a search for fulfilment of needs outside the marriage.”

Building on processes that periodically face the dangers, there need to be accountability relationships within and outside the team. These re-enforce good practices of strengthening marriages (e.g. regular marriage night) and knowing the “10 second rule”. The books cited here have good questions to ask one another both between married couples and accountability pairings.



The Homogeneous Hot Potato

Over the years, one of the most complex and controversial issues in the field of Christian mission has been the Homogenous Unit Principle (or so called HUP). Partly this is because of its roots in the US ‘church growth’ language, but it is also because of some deeper theological reasons. In this article we want to unpack and explore some of these key issues.  

Expressed at its simplest, the question runs, ‘Is it or is it not acceptable (or desirable) to have Christian communities made up of only one homogenous culture or social group?’ The most learned church leaders, theologians and missiologists around the world strenuously disagree with one another on this question, so it can’t be easy to resolve. That being said, we do believe there is a resolution - one which holds that homogenous groups are right and not right ... but not at the same time or in the same community structure.

Attractional Church

To speak or not to speak of Attractional Church, that is the question


Contexts are different around the world and even within one country ... and furthermore they are changing rapidly. Not only that but how we understand language is different from place to place, even within a single language group like English ... and now even in one place the meaning that we put on particular words is changing.

Faced with this problem, Mike Breen blogs about why he will no longer use the term Attractional Church... and Bob Hopkins, a close colleague but working on the other side of the "Pond", responds with an explanation of why and how it will continue in his vocabulary!


Connecting the Centre to the Edge
  •  By +Graham Cray 

In Church After Christendom Stuart Murray-Williams has written that

  “The brightest hope for church after Christendom is a symbiotic relationship between inherited and emerging churches. We need each other.”


 We usually refer to that symbiotic relationship as the mixed economy: a complementary partnership between fresh expressions of church and inherited models of church. But it can be understood in other ways as well. At a recent conference in Germany, Bishop Steven Croft spoke of “connecting the centre to the edge” as one of the keys to the rapid growth of fresh expressions in the UK. 
Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones- Strategic approaches to evangelism

Our concern over 25 years of exploring church planting is how do you have a strategic understanding, that brings together all the principles into one integrated framework. We have developed this in our “Octagon” teaching which we have written up in our book “Evangelism strategies” (available from our website shop).

This framework includes our development of Laurence Singlehurst’s principles of “Sowing, Reaping and Keeping”. This envisages supporting folk on their faith journey by lovingly providing “stepping stones” or “pools from them to move through at their particular pace.

Tony Hardy, Missioner in the Manchester Diocese who planted the fresh expressions C4 in Stockport, has a very similar application of “Stepping Stones”, which has the same underlying understanding of everyone on a faith journey and evangelism is anything that helps them take steps towards and into following Jesus. We give here his paper on this version of lovingly supporting folk on their exploration of faith.

Download the .pdf here

Rural Fresh Expressions on the Share Community
The Share Community is an online gathering place where people who are pioneering (or just interested in) new forms of church can rub shoulders with and support each other.

David Muir has started an interesting group called Rural Fresh Expressions looking at "How to start and maintain new and missional groupings of people centred on Christian faith, which will draw into them the increasing variety of people who inhabit our countryside".

The group can be found here (you will need to register). Do have a look at the rest of the website as there are some interesting and useful discussions and resources.

Pioneer Ministry and Implementation of the Mission Shaped Church Report

The Mission Shaped Church Report was published in 2004 and approved by General Synod in that year. It made strong recommendations for the recognition of pioneers and their identification, training and support in both ordained and lay ministry. Implementation of these recommendations has been swift and very positive and we give further details here.    
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