When I first wandered into the wilderness of starting a new form of church, all I had was a Bible and a sense that something new was needed in our community. As our wild little church began to form, I looked desperately for others who had walked this path before me. By the grace of God, a friend told me about Fresh Expressions.
The greatest gift that Fresh Expressions gave me is a series of frameworks developed by folks in the UK and adapted by Fresh Expressions US.
Frameworks make creative ministry accessible to everyone. Michael Moynagh calls them a “robust scaffold for developing fresh expressions.”
When you take in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is easy to forget the structure of scaffolding that allowed such a beautiful work of art to take shape. Thousands of fresh expressions have found these frameworks to be helpful structures to guide the way.
Basic Building Blocks of Fresh Expressions
The first of the frameworks are the Basic Building Blocks. These five core principles form a boundary that leaves plenty of room for creativity. Without these boundaries, we could be tempted to call just about anything a fresh expression of church.
A Fresh Expression of Church is…Incarnational
Love sends us to people in the places they inhabit with no expectation of bringing them to the church building on Sunday morning. The good news is Jesus goes before us, inhabiting all of creation. John 1:14 in the Message puts it this way, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Christ has moved into the neighborhood. If we are to start a fresh expression we must follow Christ out of our comfort zones and into the community.
A Fresh Expression of Church is…Missional
We follow Jesus to the people who do not attend church. Fresh expressions have an explicit focus on people who are not yet connected to a church. A bible study that meets at the bar, but is attended by people already connected to a church is not a fresh expression. We’re focused on our neighbors not connected to church but it’s important to remember some wisdom from Dave Male, “People are not targets to get into church but creatures beloved by the Creator.” Let love be your only motivation in starting a fresh expression.People are not targets to get into church but creatures beloved by the Creator. Click To Tweet
A Fresh Expression of Church is…Contextual
We find culturally appropriate ways of being the church. We do this by deeply listening to God, our churches, and our communities. We do not carbon copy our church worship services into public places. We ask what are the essential aspects of church, and how can they be lived out in this context. Richard Twiss, the great Native American Theologian reminds us, “All cultures [are] capable of reflecting biblical faith.” It is our role to find ways to shift our presentation of the Christian faith to fit the worldviews of the people we are connecting with. The Apostle Paul does this often in the Book of Acts.
A Fresh Expression of Church is…Formational
We desire to form disciples of Jesus Christ. Yet we do this at the pace our neighbors are comfortable with. Rowan Williams points to the patient discipleship practices of Jesus,
“Looking once again at the gospels it seems pretty clear that Jesus expects some people to change pretty quickly and yet he sits in those long, patient meandering conversations – with the Samaritan woman at the well, and Nicodemus – as if to say, ‘Alright so you haven’t got it yet. Let’s keep at it and don’t be rushed’ and I think that is how Jesus relates now to people.”
Discipleship in fresh expressions is the patient kind. It happens through formal conversations about faith but also in the daily interactions leaders have with the people they are connecting with. The way you a handle conflict in the group will form disciples just as much as a formal study.Jesus expects some to change quickly yet he sits with the woman at the well, & Nicodemus—as if to say, ‘so you haven’t got it yet. Let’s keep at it & don’t be rushed’ & I think that is how Jesus relates now to people. Click To Tweet
A Fresh Expression of Church is…Ecclesial
Fresh expressions intend to become a church for the people they reach. The Church of Scotland defines church as, “The people with Jesus at the center, travelling wherever Jesus takes them.”
Fresh expressions form little churches that follow Christ into our communities. They begin with one aspect of church and slowly add more. You might begin with proclaiming the Word through conversations about scripture, or begin with communion, or begin with mission activities. As your group matures in their faith, you will begin to add more of these aspects, hoping to one day become a mature expression of church with all the vital aspects of church.
Do You Have a Fresh Expression?
Does your new form of church share these five principles? Or are you hoping to eventually have these a part of your gathering? If so, you might be starting a fresh expression! Get connected to the movement and journey with others around the country and the world who are bringing the church Jesus loves to the people Jesus loves.
Luke Edwards is the Associate Director of Church Development for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and a trainer for Fresh Expressions US. He was the founding pastor of King Street Church, a network of fresh expressions in Boone, NC. Participating in local, regional, and national levels of the Fresh Expressions movement has given Luke a unique perspective into the future of the mainline church in a post-Christian society. You can follow him on twitter at @lukesedwards or check out his blog Faithful Community at www.faithfulcommunity.com