At the Refreshing Mountain Camp in Central Pennsylvania, I interviewed two guys who know about one congregation launching multiple fresh expressions of church. Mike Snedeker is the Lead Pastor of Community Evangelical Church (CEC) in nearby Sinking Spring. Matt Hill is a CEC minister who has specific responsibilities for the coordination and encouragement of fresh expressions of church. (One-half of Matt’s time is devoted to fresh expressions.)
CEC has long been a Kingdom-oriented church. At some point a discernible shift occurred, and the congregation decided, “We’ve got to stop just trying to build this church on this hill.” So there was more than a decade of Kingdom-orientation before they heard of Fresh Expressions.
A Good Fit
Pastor Mike went to a Fresh Expressions US Vision Day hosted by his church’s denomination (Evangelical Congregational Church). The Fresh Expressions model seemed a good fit for CEC. Later Mike went to a second Vision Day and took several people with him. People at CEC began to see their places in this movement.
On a Sunday morning Mike introduced what he had heard at the Vision Day about God using people right where they are and what they’d been given. He had people write on the “connection card” something they felt passionate about and that God might be calling them to use to extend the Kingdom.
Personal invitations were sent to everyone who filled out those cards and they were invited to a “mini vision day.” Thirty to thirty-five people came. (CEC has 300-350 in worship on Sundays.) Those who attended that “mini vision day” were invited to go further, and many began meeting regularly to pray and dream together. Soon they were invited to join a Pioneer Learning Community led by Fresh Expressions US. That began in November, 2015 and concluded with a retreat in June, 2016.
Real Life Lessons
People of CEC have launched seven fresh expressions of church. It is obvious that two of the seven will not “make it,” and the others are at various stages of development.
The following is a summary of my conversation with Mike and Matt:
- It takes a while for a church (and the length of that “while” will vary, depending on the state of the church) to be prepared for a decision to launch multiple fresh expressions. That preparation is essential, and responsibility for that preparation begins with the pastor.
- Someone in the church has to own responsibility for this. (I asked Mike, the Pastor, “Can a church pull off multiple fresh expressions without a staff member having the responsibility?” He answered, “Someone is going to have to coach, encourage, coordinate, mentor and encourage. It doesn’t have to be a staff person but someone has to.”)
- CEC believes the individual fresh expressions of church have to be lay-led for a number of reasons, including the potential for replication and multiplication.
- There are many advantages to this fresh expressions option:
- All the CEC members who are leading fresh expressions of church are still involved in CEC.
- Even those who haven’t started a fresh expression of church have experienced a re-orientation to the world beyond their walls. Mike Snedeker said, “I tell people, ‘God might never call you to plant a fresh expression. But look around you. You see normal people doing this.’ And people are saying, ‘I might not start a fresh expression, but I can invite my neighbor to church. I can initiate a conversation with my co-worker.’ Launching these fresh expressions has done more than multiple sermons could have ever done to ‘infect’ the church with a spirit of evangelism.”
- It is important to keep this vision for fresh expressions before the congregation. At CEC, on the 3rd Sunday of every month, they have a “launch moment”—5-7 minutes at beginning of the service—to 1) celebrate what God is doing in a particular fresh expression, 2) tell stories, and 3) cast vision.
- There is a need for clear expectations up front. Matt Hill now has a contract that he gives to those who have an idea for a fresh expression, explaining expectations of him as the coordinator, and expectations of the team members, for the sake of clarity and accountability.
- People who launch these fresh expressions might have to step away from leadership roles in their church. Matt described one of the pioneers who resigned from a major leadership role at CEC in order to focus on his neighborhood. “I can’t come to lots of meetings and do this,” the pioneer said.
- This is not easy. Mike and Matt acknowledged that it is challenging for one congregation to launch multiple fresh expressions of church. “There are times that I feel like doing 5 or 6 of these is stretching us thin,” Matt conceded.
- There must be leadership buy-in. Matt told me, “If this is the passion of one person alone it will not work. Some in the church are likely to resent why so much attention is given to this and why this isn’t bringing people to our church.”
- Churches should not fear “failure.” According to Mike, “Our people are growing, even when a fresh expression is not ‘successful.’”
When I asked Matt and Mike, separately, whether they would suggest a congregation launch multiple fresh expressions of church the first words out of both their mouths were: “Do it!” Mike went on: “Just doing something is better than just sitting around strategizing.”
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.