The University of Virginia’s Professor Saras Sarasvathy has caused quite a stir. Based on the meticulous study of a sample of successful entrepreneurs, she has been re-writing much of what we thought was true about the subject. She’s challenging the prevailing wisdom.
One thing she discovered is that successful entrepreneurs simply start with what they’ve got. They don’t start with a wonderful idea and go looking for the necessary resources. They start with what they already have – who they are (their passions, jobs and interests), what they know (such as the neighborhoods they live in or their particular expertise) and who they know (their relational networks). They then work with others to turn what they have got into a commercial venture.
I can see many examples of something similar among pioneers of fresh expressions in the UK. Take Carol, for example (not her real name). She works as a nurse in a medical practice. That is part of who she is.
What does she know? She knows that an unusually high proportion of the new mothers seen by the doctors she works with have postpartum depression. She also knows that mothers suffering from postpartum depression are greatly helped if they meet with other new moms.
Who does she know? A minister and his wife who live in the neighborhood where many of these mothers also reside. So she asked the minister if he and his wife would host a weekly support group for new mothers. He agreed, and the group began to meet.
What else does Carol know? She knows what she doesn’t know. Mothers are attending the group regularly but she does not know how to encourage them to take a next step toward Jesus.
But who does she know? A friend who has recently become a Christian. So Carol asked this friend what she should do. As a result, she put together a menu of ideas for what the group might do next. She offered the menu to the group, which chose an option that helped them to start exploring the difference Jesus can make to people’s lives. In time, the group has become what is effectively a new expression of church.
If anyone had asked Carol to start a fresh expression in an abstract, total sense, she might have run a mile. But a step-by-step approach, building on who she was, what she knew and who she knew, worked perfectly for her.
So let’s keep fresh expressions simple. Just start with what you’ve got – and pray!
Rev’d Dr. Michael Moynagh is theological consultant to Fresh Expressions UK. His new book, Being Church, Doing Life: creating gospel communities where life happens, has just been published in the United States.