Australia and UK: A tale of two Anglican dioceses


“New kinds of churches really are the hope of the future,” says Australian missiologist Mike Frost. On his weblog, he shares the tale of two Anglican dioceses, one in Sydney (Australia), the other in Leicester (UK).

Long considered “a last bastion of growth and vitality of Anglicanism in Australia”, the Diocese of Sydney now sees a decline in church attendance. Looking for reasons for the decline, the parish priest Rev. Antony Barraclough cites developments outside the church, like individualism in society and the emergence of Sunday trading. “It all sounds like he’s saying Sydney Anglicans just need to try harder to attend more often,” Frost observes.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Leicester on the other side of the world chose for radical experimentation and freedom in a nation-wide initiative called ‘fresh expressions’. These new forms of church attract thousands of worshippers. First coined in 2004, the term ‘fresh expressions’ refers to new forms of church that emerge within contemporary culture and engage primarily with those who don’t go to church. They are new, pioneering, innovative approaches to doing and being church, which often doesn’t look like ‘church’ at all.

‘In these fresh expressions of church 66% of core leaders are women, 85% are unpaid, 74% unlicensed’

They include things like ‘messy churches’ (for children) and heavy metal churches, as well as pub churches, micro churches, dinner churches or house churches and other missional communities. They are genuine churches, real places of belonging and mission, but the people who attend them don’t feel the need to go to a ‘normal’ church on a Sunday morning as well. Usually, they aren’t led by ordained, paid clergy. Instead, fresh expressions are headed up by unordained, voluntary lay-leaders. In Leicestershire, 66% of all core leaders are women, 85% of leaders are unpaid, 74% are unlicensed ‘lay-lay’ leaders.
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Since they began, there has been a 60% increase in the number of fresh expressions in the diocese. There has also been a 63% increase in the number of people attending a fresh expression, and a 77% increase in the number of fresh expression attendees who have been baptized. Today, there are 4,378 people actively involved in 99 fresh expressions of church across the Leicester Diocese. In fact, more than one in four of the Anglican worshippers in the diocese attend a new form of church rather than a traditional one.

‘When I compare them, one diocese is complaining and declining; the other is developing and growing’

And these new types of churches aren’t drawing people away from the traditional Anglican parish. They are strengthening each other. In his annual report, the Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow writes: “We are seeing, constantly, that there is strength in having so many different models of the church – what we call a ‘mixed ecology’. The different expressions of church within a parish complement each other, and this variety is possible because as Guerin Tueno notes, ‘the church is not defined by its outward appearance, forms and traditions but by its character and relationships’.”

“When I compare the Sydney and Leicester approaches it appears that one diocese has decided they don’t really need to change much about their churches – they just need to encourage greater commitment from their members – while the other diocese is willing to embrace experimentation and radical change,” says Frost. “One diocese only ordains male clergy; the other releases women and men to serve in a variety of forms. One diocese requires its clergy to complete rigorous theological study; the other licenses lay and lay-lay leaders. One diocese is complaining that the culture has changed; the other develops forms of church that are shaped by a particular culture or context. One diocese is declining; the other is growing.”

About the author

Bennie Mostert
By Bennie Mostert