A friend of mine recently published a picture book inspired by a backseat conversation with his 5-year old son. Titled When I Grow Up, the story is about how the little boy dreams of being a bunch of different professions—a different one on each day of the week. He wants to be a fireman one day, a clown the next, and even a ninja the next. His dad told me about a time he was presenting the book to a bunch of kids at an elementary school and they questioned why grown-ups didn’t think the concept was possible; in their minds, if they could learn to do anything, they could become anything and therefore be everything.
While we know that it would be nearly impossible to hold down a job as a fireman, a clown, a ninja, and 4 others at the same time (although some of us serve in bivocational roles and actually do different things on different days of the week!), there is something to the limitless possibility, imagination, and learning potential of small children. As adults, when we’re trying to see beyond the barriers we’re facing, when we’re learning a new language or sport, or when we’re finding ourselves fearing change and risk, we often think back to the days when we were younger, when things were different. Young people see opportunities in new things. Young people are more open to trying new things. Young people more easily learn new things.
When it comes to churches— living bodies in their own right—I think the same is true. Young churches not only reach more unchurched and dechurched people than older churches but they also tend to try more things and face less opposition. They connect God’s Word to real life in creative ways. They learn many new things about their neighborhood because their survival depends on connecting with people in their neighborhood. They throw block parties, host farmers’ markets, organize concerts, distribute pumpkins, and throw other spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. In fact, some of the most successful new church plants come from church plants under five years old.
But besides the inclination for thinking outside the box, drawing people into worship services, and multiplying themselves, church plants or newstart churches also are possibly one of the most fertile grounds for starting fresh expressions of church—possibly more fertile than established churches ten to twenty times as old and ten times their size. It may seem counterintuitive for a new church to start a fresh expression of church instead of spending that energy to draw people to itself. However, with a mindset that understands God’s provision and is focused on God’s Kingdom and not building our own, it makes perfect sense. Just as soil that has been tilled and has been proven conducive for growing one type of plant may also be conducive to other species, new churches are naturally positioned to establish different fresh expressions that exist primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church, including their own.
They, like the kindergartener, are inherently wired to not only dream about but live out this fresh perspective for five main reasons:
1. New Churches are Naturally Missional.
While many inherited/older churches tend to lean towards tending to the needs of members and struggle with staying connected to the people outside their buildings, church plants see themselves as missionaries within a local context. Having few (if any) programs in place, new churches are able to focus their time, energy, and resources on reaching and discipling people. Starting fresh expressions of church is another way of being missional.
2. New Churches Have New Christians.
New Christians not only have strong relationships with non-Christians and are aware of groups of people not reached by the gospel, but they also are passionate evangelists. With equipping, empowering, and encouraging, they can most easily be opportune leaders and teammates in starting fresh expressions of church with their friends who won’t come with them to church.
3. New Churches Understand Sending.
Many church plants originate from a sending congregation who has provided people, a pastor, and/or resources. Not far from their roots, church plants tend to hold these things less tightly and see sending as paying it forward.
4. New Churches Realize They Won’t Reach Everybody.
Once a church is a few years old, it develops its own DNA, character, population set, and reputation in the community. The most successful church plants recognize that they can’t- and shouldn’t- try to reach everyone around them. Sometimes God raises up people within a church plant who see a need/feel a passion for a particular group of people. Instead of dismissing them or trying to refocus their energy, they might be called to start a fresh expressions of church .
5. New Churches Are Flexible- and Creative.
Resiliency is a necessary trait to have as a church planter. Circumstances change, people come and go, and successful plants adjust their sails while staying the course. They are open and aware of ministry opportunities and the unexpected, unplanned opportunities God may present. Fresh expressions provide a means of responding to those opportunities while not completely readjusting the mission of the plant.
As the new associate pastor/campus pastor trainee at a 5-year old church plant, I am in the process of working with a man in our congregation who wants to start a fresh expression in his neighborhood the same time I am working to launch a second site of our church. Just as fresh expressions of church can be started by and alongside established churches, I think church plants play a natural, imaginative, creative key role in starting them as well.
Are you, too, part of a church plant who has started or is in the process of starting a fresh expression of church?
How do you see the relationship between church plants and fresh expressions of church?
Email us and share your story!
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.