I recently spent a morning with two of the most creative Jesus-followers I know—Jay and Lisa Smith. Lisa is Pastor, and Jay is Cultural Architect, of Convergence, a unique community of faith.
“Convergence” is an apt name, for in this place and among these people there is a convergence of multiple expressions of art and a fresh expression of church. I’ve never witnessed anything like it, and to see this union of life, faith, art and spiritual pilgrims was nothing less than inspiring.
While many in the Christian community are wary of the Arts community (and vise versa), Jay and Lisa have found a way to introduce and intermingle the two. Lisa noted that for centuries the best of Western art were acts of worship. And Jay noted, “If we Christ-followers can find our place in the world of the arts we can shape the culture, not just respond to it.”
Here are some lessons we can learn from this holy, effective, eight-year-old experiment and others like it.
1. Pioneers of fresh expressions of church have few models and few peers.
These ecclesiastical pioneers are blazing trails. It’s often impossible (as with Convergence) to find anyone else who is doing the same thing. While that can be exciting, even liberating, it can also be daunting and lonely.
2. Some of our Christian friends are skeptical of these new, rather avant-garde, forms of church.
It is important that we champion these creative forms of church in more traditional arenas and translate the language of Fresh Expressions for those who don’t understand what we’re trying to do.
3. Gatherings that celebrate fresh expressions of church validate what many have perceived as a divine call, but for which they had no category.
As one pioneer recently said of fresh expressions gatherings, “When I come to these things I’m encouraged. Here, I know I’m not crazy!”
4. Many fresh expressions of church are engaging populations that are much less responsive than others.
Missiologists note that, for various reasons, there are populations around the world that are simply not very responsive. Missionaries serving in Japan, for example, are less likely to report large numbers of conversions than, say, missionaries serving in South Korea. That doesn’t make the missionaries to Japan less faithful or less skillful; it simply means they are working among people who are not yet very open to the Christian gospel. Whether it is overseas or down the street, it’s important that we do not give up on those who are still unresponsive and that we encourage the pioneers who work among them. To label these pioneers ineffective because they are not yet able to report lots of converts would be shortsighted.
5. We should celebrate congregations that are willing to give up their facilities and traditions for the sake of a radical experiment.
Convergence began when the people of Fair Park Baptist Church recognized they had little hope of effectively engaging its community. They agreed to let their beloved church become something very unlike anything they had been. Their willingness to sacrifice their identity for the sake of the world should be celebrated and emulated.
Our prayer and intent among the US Fresh Expressions team is to provide more forums, stories and models to capture theological imagination. We want to encourage networks and learning communities for pioneers and for existing churches who are exploring creative ways of engaging a changing culture.
If you know good stories of fresh expressions of church, please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can help spark a movement.
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.