A Breath of Fresh Air

I love to talk about new expressions of the church for our changing world, and I realize I am joining a chorus that has been sung for a long time.  In 2004, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York along with the Methodist council founded the Fresh Expressions Organisation. I found some inspiring material and quality thinking over at their website: Fresh Expressions. To me it was incredibly encouraging.

Many existing churches operate with a ‘you come to us’ mindset. ‘Would you like to join us?’ is an invitation to come to ‘our’ church, set out as we like, at a time that fits us, in a style that we have pre-arranged. The flow is from outside-in: from the world into the congregation.

Fresh expressions have a ‘we’ll come to you’ mindset instead. They start not with an invitation (‘Come to us on our terms’), but with an offer (‘We’re willing to come to you, serve you and stay with you. If you want, we’ll also help you to be church in a way that suits you – in your style, not ours’). The aim is not to provide a stepping stone into existing church, but to form new churches in their own right. The flow is from the congregation to people outside – not inward, but outward.

Fresh expressions is a new mindset, not a new model of church to be copied. It is a mindset that starts not with church, but with people who don’t belong to church.

Fresh expressions are:

  • missional – serving people outside church;
  • contextual – listening to people and entering their culture;
  • educational – making discipleship a priority;
  • ecclesial – forming church.

from the article: What is a Fresh Expression Church?

What a great summary in those four small bullets! All I can add is wow and yes please.

In the late 90’s, a youth worker friend and I began to seek for answers to the question: Why are our older teens leaving the church? This question eventually led me to Robert Webber’s The Younger Evangelicals (published in 2002) and into a greater discovery of the emerging church. Here’s what Fresh Expressions had to say about that:

Emerging church has become a popular term, especially in the United States, to describe all sorts of new ways of being church, though we detect signs that the term is beginning to go out of use (has it become too broad to be helpful?).

There are at least three groups within the ’emerging church’ family:

Society has changed and church must change too
  • Those who think and write about Christianity and our changing culture. They are wrestling with the challenges presented to the Christian faith by ‘post-modern’ thought and behaviour. How can the gospel connect with today’s world? What might be the implications for church?
  • Those exploring new forms of church mainly with people who still go to church (but who are often about to leave). Typically they are into alternative forms of worship and authentic community. Many have a missional heart, but their starting point is to work with Christians who are dissatisfied with existing church.
  • Those exploring new forms of church mainly for or with people who don’t attend church. Some of these innovative forms of church have a fruitful track record, but others are small, young and fragile. Though not everyone would use the term, we would describe these communities as ‘fresh expressions of church’.

All three strands acknowledge that society has changed and church must change too. The challenge for all of us is to recognise God at work in each other and champion what God is doing.

from the article: What is a Fresh Expression Church?

The emerging church movement (or the emerging missional church) is something near and dear to my heart and not a concept I am willing to yield just because I don’t agree with everything said under the emerging/emergent label.

And let me emphasize that this is not putting new wine into old wineskins, these are truly unique expressions of Church:

Church of England Statistics

I love the fact that the majority of these fresh expressions are led by unordained leaders and two thirds of those leaders are women. A tremendous amount of quality work and it’s having an impact.

One could say that’s fine for the Church of England, but the necessity, and urgency, hits close to home. I found another website: freshexpressionsus.org and according to this article there, Fresh Expressions of Church in NC, 80% of North Carolina’s 9.7 million residents (where I live) don’t attend church.

“We’re either going to be content with a very low ceiling or we’re going to have to unleash the passion of the whole church and send them in the same way we send missionaries — release them and trust them. They are capable of being at the center of a new movement of God’s spirit alongside the traditional church. That’s a prophetic word.”

from the article: Fresh Expressions of Church in NC

That article was published by the American Baptist Press. Yeah, stuff just got real.

I hope this post provides a breath of fresh air. God is at work and we are not alone.

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4 thoughts on “A Breath of Fresh Air

  1. So, I hear what you are saying but… John the Baptist and Jesus are the original Fresh Expressionist and look what happened to them. This is not a safe road you call us to journey down.

    1. Thank you for understanding what’s at stake. This call is the opposite of safety and comfort.
      This is a call that potentially costs everything: family, friends, dreams, reputation. But it’s worth it.
      We can huddle behind our preferences or we can give everything to our great King and be His hands and feet. It is then, when we have given Him all, that He crafts us into His community and we become an unstoppable Kingdom force.
      I don’t want to settle for anything less.
      The stakes are too high.
      Thanks!

  2. Your blogs have really been a “breathe of fresh air” to a “stale” and out dated way
    of thinking in our church body. Thank you!

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