“We do know how to win un-churched people to the C of E”, declared Bishop Graham Cray, Archbishops’ Missioner and Leader of Fresh Expressions, in his valedictory speech to Canterbury Diocese on Saturday 22 March.
Speaking to around 80 people attending the Creative Mission Forum of Canterbury Diocese Bishop Graham spoke of the successes of the Fresh Expressions movement, which over the last ten years has seen the development of 2,000 Fresh Expressions of church in the Church of England and Methodist Church.
Bishop Graham, who was Bishop of Maidstone and Bishop for Mission in Canterbury Diocese between 2001-2009, and who retires from his current post next month, recalled the early days of Fresh Expressions in the Diocese when the number of leaders was small enough to fit into the Bishop’s front room. There are now 61 Fresh Expressions in Canterbury Diocese, with an average size of 51 people.
“The tragedy has been that the ‘back doors’ of our churches have been open for ages and people have been flowing out and no one thought to ask them why.” said the Bishop. “But now we have much to celebrate. Fresh Expressions has helped to draw many lapsed church goers back to faith. Fresh Expressions have also been successful in engaging people who have never been to church; 34% of Fresh Expressions worshippers who are 16 or over, have never been part of a church before.”
In his address, the Bishop offered a call to action. “Almost any church or group can do this; reaching out in mission is in the grasp of scores of churches.” The key question churches should ask, suggested Bishop Graham, is ‘who will current forms of church never reach?’ and start from there. Churches should also be prepared for the Holy Spirit to surprise them with the people called to lead Fresh Expressions, the Bishop said, adding that the most effective leaders are often lay and ‘not the usual suspects’.
Fresh Expressions, argued Bishop Graham, is not an excuse, however, to put on new exciting events, but an opportunity to make discipleship central to a community, so that people can live as Christians even when they are not with other Christians.
Finally, Bishop Graham suggested that people leading successful Fresh Expressions should consider planting again, possibly in collaboration with a local traditional church. But, warned Bishop Graham, just replicating the Fresh Expression somewhere else is not sufficient. “You must ask again, who will never be reached without this mission? Keep following the Holy Spirit and always keep prayer at the heart of your plans.”
The Reverend Canon Kerry Thorpe, Canterbury Diocese’s Mission and Growth Adviser, who was previously the Fresh Expressions Missioner for Canterbury Diocese, commented: “We were delighted that Bishop Graham could share his valuable insight and learning about Fresh Expressions at our meeting of the Creative Mission Forum. We wish him well as he retires and moves to Yorkshire next month.”
Further information from:
Emily Shepherd, Director of Communications, Canterbury Diocese 01227 459 401, 07876 210 446, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shows Bishop Graham Cray with Revd Canon Kerry Thorpe