Fresh Expressions has been movement in some mainline congregations that has helped congregations be different in the way they express church, as is part of what is helping some mainline churches be renewed.
The Small Things report is an analysis of Fresh Expressions in 21 dioceses of the Church of England.
Introduction to Small Things Report
The title reflects a view of today’s context and the report’s content.
Some will immediately recognise it is part of a quotation from Zechariah 4:10 which is a text from the exilic period. The relevance of this is that there is writing, across the theological spectrum, arguing that, within Europe, the Church of England finds itself in a period that could be called post-Christendom. As a Church we find ourselves once more at the edge rather than the centre of society, at its margins rather than in power or control. Exilic texts address such a context.
Zechariah 4:10 holds two factors in tension. The pull one way is the call to resist the temptation to despise what are only small things, and the hint to rejoice in the sign they convey, which is the beginning of a needed rebuilding process. The pull in the other direction is that all that can be seen is only small. In writing this report we were aware of a Church of England context in which our leaders have become more candid about past decline, and the sharp nature of the challenges for the future, as well as calling for a constructive response, going under the title of Renewal and Reform.
Our conviction, from our researched data, is that the Church of England’s fresh expressions of Church (fxC) are one of the small things in our day which are signs of renewed hope. The phrase, ‘the day of small things’ can be unpacked in several ways in relation to our findings. We know that ‘small’ is a relative term and the fxC types do vary in size. However, the broad picture from the data shows the majority of fxC (61%) fall in the range of 15-55 people with only 9% of them being of over 100 attenders. No one of these small young churches is going to make a dent in a century of ecclesial numerical decline. It would be easy to despise this feature. However, the term ‘the day’ suggests the language of a ‘kairos’ moment, a season when something’s time has come. Although not all fxC in our report are small, the burden of our report is about a large number of small things which we think, as the data shows, taken together are making a positive difference.
The differences are not solely a numerical addition in the face of decline, though they are that. They are also about a reforming re-imagination of the Church, by which faithfulness to the past and contextual engagement with the present are held together. It is sign of creativity, not just of growth, but also of partnership with the disturbing but renewing Spirit of God. Among the clearest signs is the sheer presence of 1109 young Church of England churches and also the emergence of the 574 lay-lay leaders of fxC. The existence and effectiveness of this group of largely untrained and unauthorised leaders is unpacked in Chapter 11. They were unknown before this research.
The title of the report invites the Church of England not to despise what is growing within its family, but has not yet been given due sympathetic attention. The invitation is to notice a phenomenon whose time has come and which has quadrupled in the last ten years. Now may be the day of small things: a diverse set of small, sometimes frail, mainly young churches that lay a claim to being among our best hopes for the future. They are not the whole answer, but they are one sign of reform as well as renewal within the Church of England.
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