It’s a question we’re frequently asked, and for good reason. Is there a difference between church planting and Fresh Expressions of church? To answer the question, we need to look at the objective.
Fresh Expressions are new forms of church for people who are not yet part of any church. Some people in a Fresh Expression might have prior experience in church. Others might have no church background at all. If the objectives of a new church plant are geared toward people unfamiliar with or not connected to any church; then the church plant is a Fresh Expression of church.
Sometimes though, the primary objective of a ‘church plant’ is the establishment of a worship service and much of the planning and development of the church point to that objective. The logic goes that once the worship service is established, then programs for mission and discipleship are created based on the needs of the people who join the new church.
All churches want to reach people beyond the reach of the existing church, but when a worship service is the objective (even one with different music or preaching or innovative video presentations), it will likely attract people accustomed to attending a worship service; i.e. Christians who have moved to the area or those who are looking for a new church.
In addition, Churches that begin with worship services (followed by the development of programs for the people who attend) tend to need more funding more quickly and only Christians from a dedicated church background are prone to give financially to these sorts of endeavors.
Fresh Expressions takes a different approach. Instead of starting with a worship service, we begin with a process of listening to and learning from the community. We become a presence in a community (or among a particular group of people in a community) instead of expecting the community to come and be present among us. You can read more about the definitions here.
Fresh Expressions of church infuse people and places with the gospel of Jesus. In some cases, a process of listening, serving, and cultivating community enables an emerging process of discipleship. The process of discipleship allows for the development of a mature expression of church that fits the cultural context and is less-reliant upon short-term financial sustainability.
Because Fresh Expressions start small and are often connected to an established church, there is less immediate pressure for these endeavors to become fully-functioning institutions with all of the marks (staff, committees, buildings) of the established church. Indeed it is often those marks that, while good, are not necessary for the core of an ‘ecclesia’, and often impede the mission among people who are not predisposed to ‘church’.
The story of Vox Veniae in Austin is one such example. This expression of church started because an established immigrant congregation wanted to start a new form of church that would better connect with the young adult children of the congregation. Vox Veniae was given the permission to become incarnational among a people and in a community that the immigrant congregation would never reach.
Similar stories are happening all across the country. Let us know if you have one to share.
Gannon Sims serves as Director of Networking and Communications for Fresh Expressions US. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Gannon is the Director of Ministry Formation for Fresh Expressions US and leads the Fresh Expressions efforts of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University and the Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. Prior to entering seminary, Gannon worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and as a public affairs officer in the anti-human trafficking office at the U.S. State Department. He enjoys forging partnerships between followers of Jesus from different traditions and has served in various roles at several churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. Gannon is married to Carey, who also is a graduate of Duke Divinity School. Together they work to bring fresh expressions of church to the collegiate community at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.