When we look out into God’s Creation, birth is seen as an indicator of health. When an organism gives birth to one, two, three, or more new organisms, it passes on new life to the next generation, to a new generation with different DNA and perhaps a different role in the world. When it comes to fresh expressions of church, established churches are not the enemy. More often than not, they are potential proud parents who enable fresh expressions of church to exist, develop, and impact their communities with their unique DNA.
Bon Air Baptist Church, in Richmond, Virginia, has birthed three fresh expressions of church so far. The first was church for the recovery community. The second was church for the international, non-English-speaking community. The third was for the prostitution (yes, you read it right) community. These multiple births allowed Bon Air to reach out and impact people who would never enter their sanctuary on a Sunday morning.
Bon Air is not the only inherited (established) church that has birthed multiple new forms (fresh expressions) of church. So how does one church do that?
That kind of thing rarely happens as part of a strategic plan. Most often multiple fresh expressions spring up spontaneously, even surprisingly, when a church has a missional mindset. So perhaps the most important step in the planting of multiple expressions of church is to help your congregation turn their attention to the “ocean”—the world beyond their walls. Here’s what I mean by that…
If you are in some sort of leadership or management role, you might have read the best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner. While visiting Northern California, the authors mention that they came across a sign that offered a warning for beach-goers that also applies to churches. The sign said: “Never turn your back on the ocean.” The waves and current are such that if one stands in the water looking back at the shoreline, a walloping wave might knock you down and sweep you out to sea! Apparently a number of folks have met their premature demise just because they decided to take in the view of the beach. And here is the application the writers made: “When we take our eyes off the external realities, turning inward to admire the beauty of our own organization, we may be swept away.”
An outward orientation is important for a congregation to prayerfully develop fresh expressions of church. Often fresh expressions emerge organically when a congregation has its eyes on the world around it. Fresh expressions of church happen naturally when a church has a culture of creative engagement with people beyond their walls. So how can you encourage that? How can you cultivate a missional, outward-facing culture?
If you are the pastor or a lay leader, you can begin now to help people in your congregation love people outside their walls more deeply. You can help people understand God’s passionate and holistic mission to the world. You can help them note the decline of the Christian faith in Europe and North America, and you can encourage creative, strategic thinking about how to engage those far from God and His church. You can lay the groundwork for thinking about fresh expressions, new forms, of church. You might even consider a re-prioritization of your congregation’s energies and resources in order to focus more keenly on mission.
This “missions culture,” by the way, begins with you, whether you are a vocational minister or a lay leader. You will have to lead by example. What is it that you could do to help create a missional culture in your congregation? If you do that, your congregation might birth multiple fresh expressions of church quite naturally, almost surprisingly!
Travis Collins is Pastor of First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama, and Director of Mission Advancement for Fresh Expressions US. He holds a PhD in Christian Mission and is the author of From the Steeple to the Street and Fresh Expressions of Church.