In September this year the diocese commissioned Church Army to undertake an audit of Fresh Expressions of Church in the diocese – the first time such an exercise has been undertaken. The aim is to build the true picture of how Fresh Expressions have grown in Bath and Wells, the different types of Fresh Expressions that are represented here, what works and what works less well, what impact our Fresh Expressions of church are having and comparing this information with other dioceses across the country.
Armed with this information, the diocese’s Evangelism Team, led by Revd Tina Hodgett (Twitter users may know her as @RumpusRev) are to shape the way in which we can best encourage, equip and support our Fresh Expressions.
Tina says, “By nurturing these new ways of being church alongside our existing family of parishes, we strengthen and compliment what we can offer to our local communities and reach those we are not currently reaching.
“We want to ensure that support for Fresh Expressions is offered in a more structured way. The insight we have gained from this audit gives us a foundation on which to build this from the ground up, responding to the needs of the wonderful people – often volunteers – who have been working under their own steam and with little resources to Live and Tell the story of Jesus with new groups of people.”
Get involved and tell us what support you might need for Fresh Expressions to flourish where you are – Tina is keen to hear from you.
How ‘Fresh’ is Bath and Wells?
One of the key findings of the audit is that there are perhaps fewer current Fresh Expressions in the diocese than we might collectively think, with 38 Fresh Expressions (or FxC for short) meeting the Church Army’s criteria.
We can though be encouraged by the fact that the number of Fresh Expressions in Bath and Wells is growing year on year; the high number of children attending FxC in the diocese (most of our Fresh Expressions have a children/family focus); engagement with people who have never been to church; clergy and laity leading Fresh Expressions together; and the fact that our Fresh Expressions are really getting to grips with scripture.
Areas where Church Army have described the diocese’s Fresh Expressions as more vulnerable are in areas of training for lay leaders, growth rates of FxC over time and offering of the sacraments – though many of our Fresh Expressions felt they weren’t yet at this stage.
You can download an at-a-glance summary or the report in full below.
What can our Fresh Expressions bring to our communities?
Pitstop in Portishead was established in 2013. Pitstop is aimed at families with children aged 0-7 and has around 10 families regularly attending every month. The idea behind Pitstop is to provide a space for families who couldn’t fit into traditional church in any sense. As that was explored, the key phrase that came out was that the team wanted Pitstop to provide physical, social, emotional and spiritual space for re-fuelling.
Fran Smettem, Children’s and Families Worker tells us more…
“It has been described as holy chaos, fun, awesome, and a sanctuary. Families who come have mostly have little or no church contact, but both adults and children say that they love Pitstop’s family and community feel. The children in particular love the God-content, and say that Pitstop wouldn’t be Pitstop without the ‘God-stuff’.
“We hope that we serve the local community by providing a playful and creative space to explore faith in a non-traditional environment. We also provide tea for the children, which has been an important part of building the fun and community aspect of Pitstop (as well as the physical refuelling!) and for some families it has made a big difference financially.
“We’ve had big changes to the team as people have come and gone, and we’ve needed space to build it back up. We meet every month to review and plan and pray, and that’s been crucial as we look at new ways of presenting, or praying and adapting as the children have got older. Of course we have the constant challenge of introducing new families.
“For people thinking about setting up a Fresh Expression, I would say…do it! But be clear with your church. A Fresh Expression shouldn’t be aiming to bring people to Sunday services and is unlikely to be financially self-sufficient for a long time. The key thing is to listen to what the community want and respond to that. It’s easy to do what you think will work – but that’s not necessarily what the people who are interested in exploring faith will want.”