Our Communications Director Gannon Sims sat down with Seth Horrell, pastor of North Riverside Baptist Church in Newport News, Virginia. North Riverside Baptist is the host church of our Tidewater Vision Day on October 9.
GS: What do you know about the work of Fresh Expressions?
SH: I first ran across UK Fresh Expressions on a blog. We read stories about how the Church in the UK was getting outside the building, and how this was leading to the creation of new kinds of faith communities.
We were struck by how important this is.
Christendom is falling apart. We held on for a long time here in the Peninsula, and fresh expressions of church, alongside traditional congregations strikes the right balance.
GS: Tell us a little bit about your church.
SH: The church started in the 1950s. At the same time, the neighborhood was being built. There was a common idea that people would go to the church nearest your home. Today the neighborhood is being redeveloped, so we are re-developing our relationship with it as well.
We’re also near Christopher Newport University, a school that has blossomed in recent years. We’re near museums, arts and cultural institutions. We can’t stay within our little plot. We want to make connections with the people around us.
GS: Do you have a sense that the church is getting on board with this?
SH: Many of our members don’t fully understand the need yet. They want people to come to church. Of course, I do as well, too, but we’ve got to be about more than getting people in the doors. That’s a short-term solution. These solutions are less and less effective. For our faith to be fruitful, we must go outside the doors.
GS: What about the Vision Day most excites you?
SH: I want to expose the people in our church and our area to this sort of thinking.
Our area is becoming less and less “Churched.” It’s heading there faster than we think.
I hope people in our area begin thinking differently. It’s a beautiful thing when we learn to be a part of this culture while still remaining faithful to our church and tradition. I can’t wait to see light bulbs go on as people begin to imagine a brighter future.
GS: Why should people come to the Vision Day? Why should they get involved?
SH: I would hope that they would get excited about the future of the faith. It’s easy to focus on aging congregations and declining budgets. The Vision Day will encourage them to be a part of another story. How can we dream about the future rather than just maintain the present?
The future is hopeful and not fearful. If you need a change in perspective, this is the place to be. I love to get into a room and find people of the same mind—conspirators who have less of an island mentality.
During the Vision Day, we’ll be able to look around the room and say “Hey, someone here is doing something. They’re thinking creatively.” That sense of being in it together is extremely valuable.
GS: What would you tell other churches or pastors who might be interested, but who are not sure about fresh expressions of church?
SH: We need to start thinking about this now.
I realize it can be a hard sell because many of us don’t really have categories for a post-Christendom context just yet. It’s easier to have meetings and events that fit our categories, but I think the fresh expressions idea can bridge the categories. The Vision Day will help translate the old and new and hold them both together.
Gannon is the Director of Ministry Formation for Fresh Expressions US and leads the Fresh Expressions efforts of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University and the Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. Prior to entering seminary, Gannon worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and as a public affairs officer in the anti-human trafficking office at the U.S. State Department. He enjoys forging partnerships between followers of Jesus from different traditions and has served in various roles at several churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. Gannon is married to Carey, who also is a graduate of Duke Divinity School. Together they work to bring fresh expressions of church to the collegiate community at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.