My sense is that most churches started as fresh expressions of church. At least that is what they want to believe. They started a church in order to reach people for the gospel who have not yet been reached. Over time that initial burst of missionary attitude gives way to a more formal, institutional expression of the church. No church makes a decision to do that – it just happens in the life of the institution. Then we realize one day that our church conversations get stuck on “organization” and very rarely move to the mission we believe we are supposed to do.
Fresh Expressions helps me re-think about the mission. It is an opportunity to go back to our “birth stories” and in some cases re-write our birth stories. It is an opportunity for the “organized, institutionalized” church to think new thoughts, dream new dreams and rekindle our love for people who do not have a relationship with Jesus.
Fresh expressions of church are also accessible. I don’t mean this as a criticism but when I am in other church conversations I see preachers, musicians, children’s ministries, youth ministries, buildings, technology and parking lots that are unattainable for me and the church that I serve. No matter how much we paint, how much we practice, how much we do we are not going to rise to that level. The simple truth of where I serve there is just a large segment of our population that are never going to come through the doors of the church no matter how much “better” we get. Fresh Expressions gives us a framework for getting back on mission. It helps us to take away the excuses of our limitations and moves us back in the mission field with Jesus.
I see fresh expressions of church happening all over the culture where I serve. People who are gathering folks together in non-traditional ways, sharing in community with one another and bringing transformation to people’s lives. The really humbling part of this is that some of these groups do not have any sense of the work of Jesus’ Kingdom. So it is exciting to me to realize in some cases I don’t have to do the “heavy lifting” of a fresh expression – I just need to show up where it is already taking place and be a Kingdom person.
I’m looking forward to our National Gathering March 28-29 in the city where I serve. My prayer is that I will see God’s fresh work around us and the church that I serve will move to mission.
Dan Carlton is pastor of the Downtown Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. He serves with Fresh Expressions US as a member of the Board of Trustees.