Before being called into ministry and entering seminary, I was an environmental scientist by trade. Much of my job consisted of asking questions, forming hypotheses, designing how I’d test them, and coming up with results. Entering into the Church-world didn’t change the way my brain works—it merely changed the mission and subject of the experiments. Maybe that’s why I see this whole idea of starting fresh expressions of church as an experiment in listening and serving the people in our own context—and letting the need and environment dictate the form and structure instead of the other way around. And although these experiments may not demand our standing knee-deep in waders all day in the middle of a marsh, it does require us to step out and serve, try new things, and experiment in our neighborhoods and communities. You only learn by doing it, not thinking about it.
As an environmental scientist, the summer was always the most opportune time in our research season, and I think it might also be when we’re talking about starting fresh expressions of church as well. If you’re looking for a chance to see what God might do through a potential fresh expression of church this summer, think about experimenting in one or more of the following areas:
1) Festivals, Fairs, and 5Ks— Every town has them—do you know what happens in your town? Even if an art show or a pet day don’t happen to be “your thing,” it might be a learning and listening experience that God might use in your own spiritual formation. Why not get your family and friends to volunteer together to serve? Street fairs are the perfect chance to do some listening in your community too. Sit on a bench, grab some lemonade and watch who shows up—and who doesn’t. Ask God to reveal who you might be called to reach while you are handing out water, registering tables, or walking from booth to booth.
2) Prayer Walking—Now that it’s nice enough to be outside and light until late, why not gather a group or go by yourself to traverse your community? Pray for the places you pass—the schools, businesses, stores, homes. The Holy Spirit might urge you to chat with someone on your path with whom you might not have otherwise spoken. What do you notice? Who and what cries out to you in your community? Take the time to listen.
3) Go Outside— Jesus spent a lot of time in the great outdoors and met a lot of people there—even on his way from place to place. Creating opportunities for people to gather can be as extensive as gardening in your front yard, organizing a block party or bringing a bunch of kites and a Frisbee to a local park. Take the kids fishing and invite their friends’ families over for a cookout afterwards. Jesus found potential disciples in fishermen—maybe you will too. If you don’t have a backyard, throw together an urban picnic at a school playground or have a popsicle night with the neighbors on the front steps. God might open your eyes to a new group of people when you use nice weather as an excuse to hang out.
4) Holidays for the Family-less— Memorial Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Labor Day. These are times when families gather for cookouts, pool time, and picnics. However, there are a lot of folks in your community who don’t have family in the area. Who are these people? What could you do? This past Mother’s Day, a lady in my church invited me to share in a picnic with a bunch of folks from her apartment building who didn’t have moms to visit. She was the person of peace, introducing me to everyone as we chowed down on burgers and potato salad and had a great time. It occurred to me that we could do this for every holiday—and probably make some new friends too. After all, Jesus spent time with those whom nobody else wanted to spend time. And that’s where he grew His Kingdom too. Are you willing?
5) Teachers and Students—It’s the end of the school year, when both students and teachers sing hallelujah, even if they’re not church people. How can you serve them? Could you drop off some cookies and free coffee for the teachers for the last week of school? Are there kids who might need tutoring or healthy lunches in a local neighborhood over the summer? How could you relieve the stress and share good news at your local college, where students and professors will be on campus all summer for summer school? One of the Apostle Paul’s favorite groups of people with whom to dialogue were those who liked to talk about thoughts and ideas (Acts 17). You, too, might experiment with spending time with them too.
These are just a sample of potential experiments you might try as you see if God leads you to start a fresh expression of church. What other fresh ideas do you have for Summer?
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.