Research teams have been appointed to start work on an 18-month project on growth in the Anglican Church, supported by funding set aside by the Archbishops' Council and Church Commissioners.
The Church Growth Research Programme will focus on a range of growth areas including cathedrals, church plants, different patterns of deploying clergy and the union of parishes.
The organisations running the programme were appointed through a competitive tendering process which, the Church says, attracted a good number of high quality proposals.
A team from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, led by Professor David Voas, has been appointed to undertake the data analysis and church profiling strands of the research. These strands will involve extensive analysis of existing data to test hypotheses around factors relating to church growth and in depth profiling of churches through a survey of 4,000 churches (from a wide variety of contexts and traditions) and some follow up interviews. It will involve a comprehensive investigation into the wide range of factors which might encourage or prevent growth.
Professor Voas commented: "My colleagues at the Institute for Social and Economic Research have made significant contributions to informing social policy over the past decade - I'm pleased to receive an even higher calling!"
The second strand involves a study of factors relating to growth at cathedrals, fresh expressions and the impact of unions of parishes and the use of different patterns of deployment of ministers. This strand will be undertaken by a team led by Revd Dr David Goodhew, Director of Ministerial Practice, Cranmer Hall, St John's College, Durham.
Dr Goodhew commented: "This is a hugely exciting project, whose findings will be crucial to the flourishing of the Church of England in years to come."
The third strand, to be undertaken by the Oxford Centre for Ecclesiology and Practical Theology (OxCEPT) at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, will investigate church planting through undertaking a number of in-depth case studies of a wide range of church plants.
The strand leader, Dr Cathy Ross, Director of OxCEPT, commented: "At OxCEPT we are thrilled to be partnering with the Church Commissioners and Archbishops' Council to undertake research into church planting. We are very much looking forward to listening and learning from a variety of church planting perspectives. The aim of this research is to evaluate effective strategies, sustainability and self-government, contextual and creative approaches, the real possibility of transferability of methods, discipleship, and the impact on the local community and beyond. In sum, the extent to which lives are changed and communities transformed".
The focus for the new research project is based on the Archbishop of Canterbury's strategic goals to the new General Synod in 2010 - to take forward spiritual and numerical growth in the Church of England for all communities.
The project will be completed by the autumn of 2013, with the findings being disseminated widely, although it will be possible to follow the progress of the project through a web site to be launched soon.