This article demonstrates how the Florida UMC is embracing the Fresh Expressions approach. How would you empower your churches to embrace fresh expressions of Church?
On April 8th, we are asking all the churches in our district to begin the first step of the fresh expressions process which looks this:
Listening. Loving and Serving. Building Community. Exploring Discipleship. Church taking shape. Doing it again. This is at all points underpinned by prayer, ongoing listening and relationship with the church at large.
While this process may not always progress in a linear fashion, the first step is usually “listening,” going out into your communities where the Holy Spirit is already at work and discovering ways you can join with what God is already doing. All we are really encouraging you to do when we say “listening,” is to mobilize your congregation to go out to predetermined locations and do three things: pray, observe, and encounter.
Below you will find a checklist to aid in your preparations for a week from Saturday. Also included are promotional aids to support your efforts. As a follow-up, you will receive a simple form to collect the stories, experiences and insights after the event. We want to be able to share these stories throughout the district. Please know that the NC District Fresh Expressions Team is available to back you every step of the way! Contact information is included.
By now you should have:
1. Engaged people in your congregation with the idea of the event and the reasons behind it.
a. For support with this step, please click here to read this article.
2. Identified places in the community where your folks might gather in small groups to pray, observe and encounter.
Below are some ideas from other churches in our district that might help you:
a. The team at Ocala First UMC created a region map of places where people gather in Ocala. We then made a board with arrows that have suggestions for where people can go to pray, observe, encounter, and are encouraging the congregation to take an arrow, grab some friends and get out into the community. Austin Holland firstname.lastname@example.org
b. St. John’s, Cotton Plant members are ready to go out into the surrounding community again to pray and seek God to understand how we can join God’s mission.Our areas include Meadow Wood Farms as well as some schools and horse communities.
c. New Covenant UMC members are ready and excited to go out into their neighborhoods in The Villages on April 7th, 8th, and 9th to notice, observe, pray and seek God. Pastor Christine Webb email@example.com
d. We are going out in the community to a few areas with a small group who has committed to go pray, observe and encounter. One idea is going to a nearby school on the 8th. It will be a Saturday, so school won’t be in session, but we will just pray for the faculty and families, asking God to show us how we can engage. I am certain that is the area where we are going to be able to work.
Pastor Miquell Mack firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Devised a means by which the participants can report back, using the form in the bulletin insert or creating your own.
Please click here to get the insert.
4. Make plans for a big push to create excitement and engagement around the event this coming Sunday, April 2nd.
b. A fresh expression can be simple and organic, and is meant to be replicated. This is just a beginning to move your folks out into the community and seek out where God would have you join the work already happening.
Below are just a few examples of how easy it can be for congregations to move outside the walls and into the community as we begin this work of listening:
Men from Wesley Chapel UMC and Zion UMC moved outside the walls of the church and study the Word together in a Starbucks on the downtown Ocala square. When Starbucks moved, they moved with them. Lots of folks engage them as they share the Word.
- On Valentine’s Day members of the St. John’s UMC congregation went out into the community for “Love on a Mission” intentionally reaching out to show the love of Jesus to others. Any outreach into the community, has the potential of becoming a fresh expression of church, when we are listening.
- Members at New Covenant have been creating caring communities at Independent Living Facilities. Just recently at one Fresh Expression called “Hugs!” a 99-year-old woman came to know Jesus. Her friends had insisted she come to check out the songs and fellowship and that the Hugs! group really cared. After her friends persisted she told me she wanted to check out what this “Jesus” thing was all about.
- Members of Belleview UMC, gather at the local Hardees restaurant. As they study the Scriptures, they engage the staff and visitors who come to eat.
- Pastor Priscilla Scherrah, is inviting people with no connection to the church to join her for “Cinema Conversations” where they simply meet at a theater, watch a movie together and reflect on its deeper spiritual meaning.
- Pastor Jerome Carris is meeting in a local deli for “Acoustic Jam Session” forming relationships with not-yet-Christians through song.
- The people of Paisley UMC, meet in a field for “Jeans and Jesus” an entry level conversation with Pastor Karen Rice about God and spirituality.
- Jill Beck, along with Dave and Schuyler Young, devoted laity, meet on Saturday mornings to have church in the Martin Luther King Jr. Building in west Wildwood. Some of the poverty-stricken families call “Connect” their church.
I want to start a fresh expression, but how do I connect with people in my community who are not-yet-Christians?
Glad you asked! Last month I started a new fresh expression called Monday at the Movies, where we meet with a group of people for a showing in the theatre, and then we meet for a discussion afterwards using questions like “Where did you see evidence (or lack of) of the presence of God? Does the movie stir you to action? Does the movie challenge your world view? Where is hope?
Members of the church where I serve shared that they didn’t have (m)any friends who weren’t already Jesus followers, so I turned to a website/app to connect with people in my community. It’s called www.meetup.com.
Meetup’s website and app help people connect with other people who have similar interests, and the company helps connect your group to their users based on their interest profiles. Within 24 hours of creating the group, I had 12 people already signed up. Now we’re getting ready for our 2nd meeting, and I have 27 people in my group. Now that doesn’t mean 27 people come to every movie; it just means that if the time/movie etc. works for them, they RSVP. The first session, I had 8 RSVP. For our next meeting on 4/3, I already have 9 RSVPs. If the group gets too large for one discussion, I’ll bring along a 2nd discussion leader. Panera last lots of room!
The first session was so successful that the group asked if we could meet 2x a month instead of 1x per month, so in April we’ll be on a semi-monthly schedule. I copied the idea of a movie discussion group from Pastor Priscilla in Leesburg who has a similar group called Cinema Conversations. Feel free to copy anything and everything that works for you. No need to be original when a format is proven to work!! Who doesn’t love a good movie? And who doesn’t love to talk?
Rev. Michael Beck is South Atlantic Coordinator Fresh Expressions US and North Central District Cultivator of Fresh Expressions for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. Michael serves as senior pastor of Wildwood UMC where he directs addiction recovery programs, a jail ministry, a food pantry, and a network of fresh expressions that meet in places like tattoo parlors and burrito joints. He currently lives in Wildwood with his wife, Jill, and their blended family of 8 children.