No church in England comes close to the spectacular growth of the RCCG denomination, but this week’s analysis explores two other growing movements, usually found in a different part of town.
Both the New Frontiers and Vineyard church networks can be found across England – and the world. They are both growing. Both charismatic. And they share similarities in the locations of their churches too.
New Frontiers was among the fastest growing denominations in the UK between 2008 and 2013, according to research by the Brierley Consultancy. Since Terry Virgo planted his first church in 1977, the network has grown from the south of England and now operates across the world, as separate ‘spheres’. This article is based on available location data for four of the six UK-based spheres – that’s 164 churches.
Last weekend, Vineyard celebrated 30 years in the UK since the first meeting was held in London in 1987. The church now has more than 120 congregations across the UK and Ireland and more than 20,000 worshippers – and it continues to plant in more locations across the country.
Both church movements can be found in all types of areas, but are more likely to be found in less deprived, more affluent locations. New Frontiers has 48.8% of its churches in areas that make-up the poorer half of the country, while Vineyard has only 42.7% in these places – the lowest of the six church denominations reviewed so far. There is a spike in the proportion of Vineyard churches in the poorest communities, though the overall trend is towards more affluent areas.
Even spread across the regions
My previous blog highlighted the low proportion of FIEC and Gospel Partnership churches in the North East. In contrast, this is one of the most well reached parts of the country for the Vineyard movement.
Without location data for churches from all New Frontiers’ ‘spheres’, limited regional insights are available. However, it is clear the movement has a strong presence in the East of England and the South East, close to where it all began.
Reaching whole cities
Despite often being in more prosperous locations, a quick look at church websites shows there is an emphasis in both movements on serving the poor. And as so many church plants are located strategically to provide good access to large populations, this may go some way to explain the trend. (Incidentally, ‘City’ and ‘Central’ are among the most common terms used in the names of New Frontiers’ churches – though not as common as ‘King’s’, which featured in 13% of church names).
However, it could be argued that churches aiming to reach a whole city will inevitably be more effective at reaching people who can get across town more easily on a Sunday morning – people with cars. Meanwhile, the 28% of UK households who have no access to a vehicle will be less likely to join a church away from their local neighbourhood. If they’re on a tight budget, they might be hesitant to spend a fiver on public transport – more if they have a family. For the unemployed, simply getting to and from church could cost 10% of a person’s weekly income, based on £56.80 per week Job Seekers Allowance.
So, as New Frontiers and Vineyard continue to plant more churches, they may want to consider the factors that have led them to more affluent areas. If reaching the poor is a priority, adjustments to church planting strategies will be needed to favour access to the less mobile and less affluent. That means even more churches are needed.
And that means even more church planters.
The information in the charts is based on available postcode locations of churches in England as published on the respective network websites and their respective Decile positions (ranking 1-10, where 1 is most deprived) in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, and region according to the NUTS 1 statistical regions of England.
New Frontiers data is based on the following spheres: New Ground, ChristCentral, Commission and Relational Mission. No data could be found online for churches in England belonging to Catalyst or Regions Beyond.