Fresh Expressions is a growing international movement involving denominations, streams and agencies who are committed to new forms of church that start by working mainly with non-church goers.
Not only is the movement creating new ways of being church in local settings, the movement is helping to pave a way toward a new kind of ecumenism.
What does that mean?
Many of us assign different meanings to the same words depending on our denomination, stream or agency. For some, the word ecumenism ushers in thoughts of partnerships between groups of Christians based on the lowest common denominator. For others, the word ushers in the possibility of unity rooted in a classic understanding of a Christian faith steeped in the practice of mission.
As the International Fresh Expressions movement grows; Phil Potter, leader of the UK Fresh Expressions Team hopes for the latter.
United by Resurrection
Rowan Williams has noted that the New Testament church “constitutes itself around the Risen Jesus when the good news is proclaimed and is distinguished not only by what it ‘confesses’, what it states as true and authoritative, but by the character of its relations—‘life in the Spirit’ marked by mutual patience, generosity and interdependence.”
Those who join this movement confess that Jesus has risen. They are equally passionate about confessing that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is active today.
The Triune God is relational and interdependent. Likewise, the Church has always been referred to as a body because it is a web of interdependent, interrelated parts.
This new approach to ecumenicism recognizes that it takes a body, empowered by life in the Spirit, to comprise the beautiful bride of Christ.
Defining Missional, Contextual, Formational and Ecclesial
The partnerships that seek to foster fresh expressions of church are further shaped by other words that require additional definition. Fresh Expressions of church are missional, contextual, formational and ecclesial.
- Missional impulse requires engagement with people who are far from God and who are not involved in any church. Martyn Atkins has noted that God has revealed himself to be missionary in his nature. The people of God are the product of God’s mission and participants in it.
- Contextual ministry requires an intentional focus on ‘what is’ in a particular place or among a particular population.
- Formation means discipleship. In the context of fresh expressions of church, discipleship often happens non-formally as participants in the various contexts of ministry are invited to imitate the kind of life exemplified by Jesus’s self-giving love.
- Ecclesial means that the aim of each new venture is that it becomes church for the population that it serves and that this new form of church has the ability one day to become self-governing, self-financing and self-reproducing.
Learning a new language or dialect takes patience and time. So does our work with denominations, streams and agencies as we gain a thorough understanding and practical outworking of these new forms of church.
When we can gather around a robust understanding of mission for the sake of the risen Jesus, we will see a robust movement that spans the breadth and depth of the Church.
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.