“How do you catch a traditional, homogenous congregation onto new-ness in mission as a layperson?”
If you get focused on trying to “win” an entire traditional, homogenous congregation into a fresh expression type mission posture, you’re going to find yourself quickly frustrated. But there may be ways to invite some in the congregation to imagine a new posture of mission in your context…and see what momentum you can gain from there.
Admittedly, it’s hard to answer this question concretely without knowing the context.
Is anyone else in the congregation at all interested in fresh expressions of church?
Is your pastor on board or not?
What kind of relationship do you have with the church’s leadership?
What kind of role (official or otherwise) do you have in the existing congregation?
Often these will be clues as to the strategies that may be available to you.
But without knowing your context, here are 6 practical ways you might begin casting a vision for your congregation as a layperson:
6 Ways to Begin Casting Vision for Your Congregation
Pursue the Blessing of Your Pastor
Schedule to have a cup of coffee with your pastor/s and get a sense of the level of interest in working with you to explore “new-ness in mission.”
You may discover that your pastor would be thrilled to have a layperson who is willing to provide some leadership and energy around some new experimental mission! Share your dream and your sense of calling, and invite them to see what is possible.
Ask them to give you their blessing for you to invite a couple of other people to join you in prayer and exploration and relationship building for the next 3-6 months towards a potential fresh expression initiative.
Commit to keeping the lines of communication open, and follow through.
Start a Fresh Expressions Book Group
Invite a group to join you in reading “Fresh Expressions of Church” (a quick read), “From the Steeple to the Street: Innovating Mission and Ministry,” (more in depth with discussion guide) or “Fresh Expressions: A New Kind of Methodist Church for People Not in Church.” Discuss it together.
This might be something you suggest to your church’s board, or a mission committee, or even just a group of people you recruit who you think might be open and interested.
Most people can only imagine the church they have always known. Let them get a glimpse of what else is possible and why it could be important in this mission field in which we find ourselves.
Discussing some ideas encountered in a book can often lead to an expanded imagination and ideas for what could be.
Get Out of the Church Building
Let the congregation know you are going to be prayer walking in the community, and invite anyone to join you.
Recruit people from your church to join you.
Prepare them for what you are asking them to do. Make sure that they know that this is not about getting out there to tell people about your church, but about getting out there to pray for the community and learn from the people you meet.
Walk, pray and notice things in your neighborhood or community that you don’t typically notice. Pray for the businesses, situations, and people you encounter along the way.
Spark some conversations by asking some curious questions (what do you love about living here, what do you think this community needs, what would make this community better, etc) and see what you discover.
When you return to the church, share some of the stories of what you saw, heard, and learned…from God and from the community.
Pursue opportunities to reflect with people in your congregation (perhaps the board, or the mission committee, or the staff, or a vision team) about what you are noticing, what you are hearing, and what mission opportunities might be emerging.
Help People Reconnect with a Jesus Who Cares Deeply About the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely
Lead a Sunday School class through the Parables of the Kingdom. Watch this Fresh Expressions US Webinar with Verlon Fosner (Dinner Church Collective) to hear him talk about how his church leaders were convicted and challenged by the parables.
Then begin to identify some parables and discussion questions that could foster some conversation and challenge in your own setting.
Reflect on how God’s Word might be reshaping your thinking about what it means to be followers of Jesus, and how that might shift the priorities of your church.
Deepen the Impact of Your Existing Mission Initiatives
Introduce your mission committee to the fresh expressions circles of development (watch here), and begin to imagine taking one of your existing mission initiatives through the fresh expressions journey. (Listening, Loving & Serving, Building Community, Exploring Discipleship, Forming Church).
Perhaps you feed the homeless once a month…how could listening lead to other ways to love and serve, which could lead to deeper relationships and community, which could begin to explore discipleship, and so on.
Is there interest in committing to taking some actual steps in that direction?
Inspire Others Through Stories
Share stories about what fresh expressions can look like practically. Find ways to connect people with real life examples, either in person or on video.
What can church look like in other places, and spaces, and rhythms? Sometimes people may just need to literally see examples of the possibilities you are inviting them to see.
So check out the Fresh Expressions US and UK websites and youtube channels, and give people a glimpse of what new forms of church look like.
Then brainstorm how those examples help give you imagination about your mission context.
Sometimes, a story or a concrete mission opportunity will excite a congregation into missional behavior long before theory will.
Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.