Gathered in a side room of a traditional church building turned artists’ church, we waited for the rest of the Northern Virginia Fresh Expressions Hub to arrive. As ministers and ministry entrepreneurs, we started talking about our churches but then somehow shifted to chatting about church faux pas. Tim Lomax, who was joining us from the UK, shared a story about entering a church for the first time and glancing at the bulletin before worship started. He said that the opening sentence stood out to him: “The service will be gin with prayer.”
Wow- what a difference a space makes.
Of course we all chuckled and commented on what a spirit-filled worship service that would be, but then something hit me about the error. When it comes to space, isn’t the same true when it comes to church?
Why Space Matters
Location and environment—yes, a different kind of “space”—make a difference when starting a church, especially a fresh expression of church. Fresh expressions are started to reach those who will never come to your church, no matter how great the coffee is, who is preaching, or how many electric guitars you have.
The people fresh expressions reach are those who see steepled buildings with stained glass windows—and even black box auditoriums with worship teams—as foreign turf. Space matters not because we need to set up shop in a quality site or aim for prime real estate but rather we need to meet people where they are—especially physically. When we look at the early church in Scripture, we see disciples who begin encountering people, gathering with them, and sharing Christ with them in places beyond the synagogue and temple, the religious establishments of their day. For the disciples and the growing Church, the space where they shared the gospel made a difference for three main reasons.
1. People already gathered there.
As the church spreads like wildfire in Acts, we find that in most of the places where people come to faith in Christ, the disciples were the ones to “go” instead of expecting the people to “come” to them. They didn’t spend time trying to “make” a space where nonbelievers would come and feel comfortable, but rather they went to places that were already occupied by people and met them where they were. These spaces– homes (Col 4:15, 1 Cor 16:19), a school lecture hall(Acts 19:9-10), a riverbank (Acts 16:11-15), and even the public square (Acts 17)—were most natural for conversations to happen, relationships to form, and the gospel to be shared, even among unexpected people. With some exceptions, the majority of fresh expressions of church do not gather in a church building. Because of this, they are inexpensive facility-wise, remain accessible, and more naturally can engage with non-Christian, unchurched people in the places these folks live their lives and spend their time.
2. Daily life happened there.
Unlike the synagogue and temple, the early church didn’t need a special facility or location to gather or worship. Following in the footsteps of Jesus who met people in homes (Matthew 9:10), on streets (Luke 8:43, Luke 24), at wells (John 4), and on hillsides (Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 5), the disciples started church in those places with people as they lived their lives. They also embodied the message of the gospel not as something only the high and the holy could access but as connected and significant in aspects of everyday life. The disciples could be and needed to be creative and flexible because there was no home base or mothership, no central office or stylistic requirements. Perhaps that is why the gospel spread like wildfire—all places could be seen as holy ground, used for God’s purposes. Maybe that’s also why fresh expressions of church connect with and are appealing to those who are unChristian and outside the church; fresh expressions have the potential to meet people where they are and to mean something in those places from which established churches have disconnected themselves- whether intentionally or unintentionally.
3. God was already active there.
Throughout Acts, the Holy Spirit works like a holy Waze app, directing (Acts 13:2), redirecting (Acts 8:39), and even stopping (Acts 16:6-7) the apostles as they journey to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Philip, and the other apostles never seem to “bring” Christ to any group of people; in some way, God is already one step ahead of them, opening hearts and minds to the gospel long before any apostolic feet touch the ground. As they share about Jesus, more often than not, those who are receptive have a realization that they have been waiting to hear this news. The Holy Spirit makes it clear that God is at work- and cares about- every place on this planet, and every context is a place for ministry if only because he is already there. Human beings are given the opportunity to work with and partner with God in his mission to fulfill his vision of redeemed lives and a redeemed world.
What a difference a space makes. That’s why fresh expressions of church are not only needed but necessary—and simple to begin. Looking at the gospel wildfire started in the early church, you can ask yourself 3 questions:
- Where do people already gather in my community?
- What places are important in the daily life of my community?
- Where do I sense God is at work in my community?
Go there. Start there. Share there. It’s in new places that fresh expressions of church reach new faces.
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.