A fresh expression is a form of church that exists specifically for people who don’t already “go to church.”
There are fresh expressions with cowboys, bikers, preschool moms and restaurant workers. A fresh expression might meet in a tattoo parlor, a pub or dog park.
Which, when you think of it, can actually get to be a problem.
With so many choices, how do you choose where to start?
Don’t let the decision overwhelm you! Remember a fresh expression should always begin as an experiment. Instead of trying to imagine what your fully-formed fresh expression will look like someday, feel free to experiment with a few new things. These seven questions will help you discern where to start your experiment.
1) What are you obsessed with?
Sometimes God calls us to be like Paul and dedicate our lives to cross-cultural ministry, aimed at people different from us. But scripture and experience seem to tell us that for every Paul there are many Peters and Phillips: leaders who focus on their own culture, but go on the occasional cross-cultural mission trip.
This is good news. Instead of moving across the world, God may be asking us to embody the Gospel in the places we already inhabit.
What do you love? What do you spend time and money on, even though no one is making you? Can you bring the gospel there?
Think about your hobbies, your reading habits or even things you wish you had more time for?
- Does your family spend Saturday at the soccer field?
- Do you beer brew at home?
- Do you have a favorite barbershop, coffee shop or pub that where you spend your free time?
- Do you spend your extra money on sports tickets? Concerts? Movies?
- Do you read comic books? Watch cooking shows?
Consider what you already spend your time doing. It could be a clue for where to try your next church experiment.
2) Who is hurting in your community?
The church is not necessarily called to fix society’s problems, but we do have a responsibility to proclaim God’s love and act mercifully when we see people in pain. Sadly, it’s easy to avoid or ignore the pain in our neighborhoods, workplaces or larger cities.
One way to start a new form of church is to research what pain points already exist in your community, and then prayerfully follow the Spirit’s guidance in addressing these issues.
In Tampa, Florida a group of women discovered that their home was a leading city for places like brothels, strip clubs, and women working in the sex industry. They decided to spend their Friday nights trying to build relationships with sex workers.
Over time, they learned that these women had basic needs for hygene supplies. So they started bringing the women care packages with food and soaps.
They also learned that many women working the streets struggle with addictions and homelessness. In time, they were able to develop a two year, residential treatment facility. This new community, called Created, is a place for women to live, work, address their addictions and participate in discipleship.
This process of listening to the needs of their community and following the promptings of the Holy Spirit slowly but surely led to the creation of a new Jesus-shaped community. Consider how you might unearth the hurts of your families, neighborhoods and city, and how God might be calling you to respond to them.
3) What types of fresh expressions might be easily adapted for your locale?
You might not consider yourself creative, entrepreneurial or apostolic. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with a new form of church.
The fact is that similar approaches often work in similar scenarios. For instance, across the country, many are finding themselves drawn to the “dinner church” approach.
Dinner church is a form of church that is focused on a shared meal. It often takes place in areas that are in the “lower-third” socio-economically. It strives to provide an opportunity of community for “isolated” people, such as second life singles or the urban poor.
No two dinner churches are the exact same. However, there are probably isolated people, not that far away from you. Chances are that there are lower-third neighborhoods that need a new form of church. Moreover, there are certain steps that you will be likely to take in trying to establish a dinner church in your community.
Just because you are experimenting with a new form of church doesn’t mean that you need to reinvent the wheel! Learn about other fresh expressions around the world, and then prayerfully experiment with what might make sense near you.
4) What is already happening that could become a church?
Often, there are exciting things happening in your established church or in your neighborhood. With a little support or just permission, this might become a church?
At Fresh Expressions US, we hear questions like “what constitutes a church?” Simply put, we define a church as Jesus-centered community that has elements of: “up” (worshipping God), “in” (experiencing community), “out” (serving others outside of themselves) and “of” (native to their host culture).
Chances are good that there is already a ministry that does some of this. For instance:
- An age or affinity (such as youth or recovery) focused worship gathering (strong in up) can be encouraged to develop relationship-building opportunities (in), service opportunities (out) and internal leadership (of).
- A mercy focused ministry (such as a food bank) is already strong in “out.” This outreach could work toward becoming a church by training recipients to help serve (of), expand by offering appropriate types of worship gatherings (up) and pursuing opportunities for fellowship.
- A leader who is actively gathering people for an activity, such as a book club or a bike ride (in and of) can be encouraged to experiment with adding a worship or discipleship element (up) and make plans to include non-christians (out) in their get-togethers.
Look around your church or your community. Is there something happening that is already on the road to being a fresh expression of Church?
5) What are the sub-groups present in your community?
Cities, neighborhoods and schools are already full of sub-groups. In a large city, whatever your hobby is, chances are there is already a community devoted to it. The first step in starting a fresh expression is always to listen and learn.
Mike Snedeker, a Fresh Expressions US trainer, shared about the development of a fresh expression for the motorcycle community in his area. Their church had started a motorcycle club and had some success building a relationship with the existing community. When a member of a motorcycle club was killed in an accident, the fresh expression raised funds to help the club out.
This proved to be a turning point. Because they had been around the motorcycle community for a while in listening mode, they were able to appropriately move the relationship into the second stage of starting a fresh expression, loving and serving.
Consider what sub-groups already exist in your community. You may be called to one of them, or you may have someone in your church that is already embedded. How can you start listening to them and learning about them?
6) Who is doing good work and needs your support?
A pioneer leader can’t help pioneering. It’s what they do.
There are likely people in your church who have a history of starting things. You might have to look hard, because chances are that they aren’t your best Sunday school teachers of hospitality volunteers. It’s because they are too busy already serving somewhere in the community.
You shouldn’t feel the need to actually start every fresh expression. In fact, chances are good that someone is already trying to start something. The question is…how do you find them, and give them what they need?
There are some life stages that tend to have more capacity for starting new works. For instance, retirees have more time on their hands, and are usually looking for ways to serve. Likewise, college students have a passion to be involved in projects that are making a tangible difference, and they aren’t yet limited by full-time jobs and family.
Chances are good that you know someone like that who is already serving a sub-group, or organizing hobby based get-togethers. Get to know these people, and help them reimagine themselves as pioneers.
7) What have you been ignoring?
When you hear people talking about how God is at work through fresh expressions of church, it might stir something in you. Perhaps it brings back a memory of when you felt like you were truly living “on mission” and serving in a way you now miss. Perhaps it reminds you of a sub-group in your neighborhood you’ve been noticing and might even feel a call to serve.
It’s easy to ignore these feelings. Life is busy. Reaching out can feel awkward. You don’t know where to start.
You might have feelings buried deep within you that you have been ignoring. Even worse, you might be like the young prophet Samuel, hearing the voice of God, but not realizing it.
If you’re not sure where to start your next experiment, consider this: what has God been calling to you for a long time, and you’ve been ignoring it?
Today is a great day to change that.
Chris works across the organization to help get new projects off the ground and into the world. He also helps to manage our email, social media and other digital communications. He helped plant Austin Mustard Seed, where he served for five years as Community Developer. He also works with several other non-profits and businesses to tell their story with content and social media. In 2012, he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a M.A. in Global Leadership. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Laura.