Some fresh expressions of church spring up on their own, independent of any existing congregation. Lots of those “independent” fresh expressions are thriving.
Most fresh expressions of church, however, emerge out of a congregation with at least a handful of people who are passionate about God and about people far from Him. And there are definite advantages when there is a “mixed economy”—when a fresh expression of church grows out of, and is tethered to, an existing congregation.
There are advantages for the existing church.
Sometimes fresh expressions of church result in growth for the long-standing congregation that launches that fresh expression. That’s true for a number of reasons.
Some who come to faith through the fresh expression of church might end eventually up plugging into the long-standing congregation. Moreover, some in the greater community might be drawn to the long-standing congregation when they hear that this particular congregation is so meaningfully involved in mission. And God might just bless the long-standing congregation with new people and greater resources so they can keep doing those things that thrill Him.
Hugh Halter and Matt Smay put it this way,
“It’s a known statistic that the churches that give away, that take risks, that send out, and that sacrificially push their people out, create vacuums that God fills with even more.”
Of course there is certainly no guarantee that the church will grow, and the numerical expansion of the existing congregation is not the point. Yet it’s hard not to get excited about the potential for a stronger congregation!
Furthermore, there is a spiritual boost that comes from launching a fresh expression of church. Alan Hirsh observed,
“It seems that when the church engages at the fringes, it almost always brings life to the center.”
I was the pastor of a congregation that launched three fresh expressions (one before I arrived). I saw firsthand the energy that starting a new form of church brings to a decades-old congregation. Those fresh expressions blessed the “mother church” with permission to try new things and with constant reminders that prayerful innovation was not only acceptable but necessary in order to reach people.
So, the advantages to the existing congregation that launches a fresh expression—the spiritual enrichment and potential growth—are substantial.
There are advantages for the fresh expression of church.
For the new form of church, having a “mother church” of sorts–a congregation that supports but does not stifle, that encourages but does not have unrealistic expectations, and that holds the “pioneers” accountable but does not look over their shoulders, is a great gift. In some cases there is financial support. In most cases it’s at least a matter of a spiritual leader (i.e. the pastor) mentoring the pioneers and cheerleading for them.
It can get lonely for the pioneers—trying to do something no one ever has heard of and for which there are no models. For an existing congregation simply to care enough to stay in touch is encouraging.
Jerusalem and Antioch
Study the story of Jerusalem and Antioch in the Book of Acts. There you will see the mutual blessing of a “mixed econony”–the empowering relationship between an existing church (Jerusalem) an a fresh expression of church (Antioch).
Whether you identify more with the Jerusalem congregation or the congregation in Antioch, would you be willing for your church to launch a fresh expression of church?
Would you be willing to be a pioneer?
You could be part of bringing “new life” to lots of people.
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.