In the first of a series examining the diversity of Christianity in the Eastlondonlines boroughs at Easter, Anja Grøner Krogstad looks at the phenomenal growth of the Fresh Expressions movement.
Have you been to prayer group in a skate park? How about a bible study in a pub? Ever sung your favourite hymn in a vegan café? If not, you have probably never been to a Fresh Expressions service, the Christian movement which has grown by a staggering 273 per cent in the UK in just five years.
This Easter, Christians all over the UK will pack out Fresh Expressions venues to celebrate the risen Christ. The movement was formally launched by the Church of England in 2005 and aims to attract followers through holding its church meetings in informal settings, it has been so successful that it has managed to stem the nationwide rate of decline in church membership.
Fresh Expressions is made up of a mixture of Christian denominations with the long-term aim of becoming an established church. It defines itself as: “A form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.” As a result, congregations have emerged on a beach in Cornwall, in a skate park in Perth and in a café in Shoreditch.
According to Dr Peter Brierley, the UK’s foremost statistician on trends in Christianity, Fresh Expressions are “informal, regular groups started by churches to reach outsiders”. For example, in Birmingham, a ‘fresh expression’ of church was set up to engage with ethnic minority worshippers from the Asian community.
So who is going to Fresh Expressions meetings? Research by Reverend Dr George Lings of the Sheffield Centre found that 25 per cent of members are Christians, 35 per cent are former members of a church and 40 per cent are new converts.
East London Baptist minister Paul Unsworth opened Kahaila, a coffee-shop-turned-church, in Brick Lane four years ago. Unsworth describes it as “a crossing place” between Christians and non-Christians. Its model, he says, demonstrates that the faith community is at the centre of the café and all its activities.
Every Wednesday around 35 people attend Kahaila’s church service to drink coffee, socialise and hear speakers such as Steve and Diana Morris, a young couple who have helped build an education centre in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Cape Town.
What started with meetings in Unsworth’s living room has grown into a popular destination for believers and non-believers alike. The café, a former leather shop, now hosts church services every Wednesday and Sunday. Unsworth hopes to open Kahaila as a franchise: “I always say that what we are doing here is exploring how we model a church that engages people.”
Brierley explains the movement’s success because of its ability to connect with non-believers and people who have lost their faith. He said: “No wonder they are growing fast, and proliferating all across the UK – they are proving a very real way of helping people become Christians, and bringing back those who had formerly drifted away.”
Steve Morris quotes Napoleon when talking about his idea of Kahaila: “As Napoleon said, ‘a leader is a dealer in hope’, my hope is that Kahaila can be a hope dealer as well”.
Follow Anja Grøner Krogstad on Twitter: @anjajebe
Tell us about your Easter: If you would like to share pictures of your Easter Sunday church service, tweet your pictures to: @eastlondonlines and use the hashtag “#MyEaster” with a second hashtag for your borough.