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How fresh expressions has reimagined Church

A major study by Church Army's Research Unit of more than 1,100 fresh expressions of Church (fxC) is providing vital insights into the future of the UK Church ...

Following four years of work, Church Army’s Research Unit have published their findings into fresh expressions of Church (fxC), after surveying more than 1,100 of these young churches across 21 dioceses. We chat to Church Army’s Director of Research, George Lings (pictured), to find out more about this relatively recent phenomenon that has taken the Church by storm

What exactly does the term ‘fresh expression of Church’ mean?

The Church has always kept reimagining itself: it began as a Jewish sect, then spread across the Roman Empire and was imagined a bit differently by the Celts. During the Reformation, the Church was reimagined again, and so on.

FxC is essentially a journey outwards, aimed at building relationships and helping people who are not currently church attenders to discover faith. Simply put, an fxC reimagines what it is to be a community around Christ, and how to stay faithful to traditional church, while at the same time, being more creative.

Why is Church Army taking the lead in fxC research?

Previously, our unit unearthed stories on fxC around the country to share good practices with others. I then sensed a nudge from God to shift the focus from sharing stories to gathering statistics.
Our charity sees itself as entirely belonging to the Church of England but not controlled by it – which gives Church Army a unique role, making it ideal for conducting objective research.

What surprised you most about the findings?

I think the biggest surprise is the existence of a whole category of people who are leading fxC, who we have nicknamed the ‘lay-lay’. Our team invented this term to describe people who are not ordained, haven’t necessarily been officially authorised or undergone any form of official training.
We have discovered that they make up the leadership of 36% of all fxC. The challenge for the Church is this: how do you encourage the lay-lay, without ‘domesticating’ them and making them just like all the other existing leaders?

What is the most encouraging aspect of fxC that you’ve discovered during your research?

Forty years ago, around three new churches a year were being set up – nowadays this number has shot up to 300! Most people are unaware that the Church of England is experiencing this level of growth in the creation of new Christian communities who see themselves as Anglican yet are entirely relevant in today’s society.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge to the future of fxC?

I think it has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can be started. What remains to be seen is whether these young churches can thrive and stand the test of time.    

Between January 2012 and May 2016, Church Army’s Research Unit examined fresh expressions of Church (fxC) across north, south and central England, with the backing of the Church Commissioners. Here are some interesting facts that emerged from the findings:

• More than 50,600 people are attending fxC across the 21 dioceses surveyed.
• There are four times as many fxC starting up now compared to a decade ago.
• The fxC are as likely to be led by women (49.5%) as men (50.5%).
• They attract double the number of under 16s (38%) compared to parish churches (19%).
• Most types of fxC get-togethers are relatively small, with between 35–55 members.
• FxC have a strong presence on some of the poorer housing estates.

To read the full report, a summary of the main findings and to watch a video on this topic, visit

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