I was speaking recently to a church congregation and made this statement; Fresh Expressions is not a church growth strategy, rather it is a Kingdom growth strategy. I believe there is a significant difference between these two perspectives.
Throughout scripture, from Genesis to Revelation we read the theme of God establishing His Kingdom on earth, with Christ as King. It is central to the proclamation of the Gospels. Both John the Baptist and Jesus announce the coming Kingdom. In the Lord’s Prayer the first request is (let) Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.
The rule and reign of Christ is paramount. So how is God’s Kingdom established on earth? Here is the simple answer: When people repent, turn to Jesus and claim Him as Lord they willingly submit to His dominion over their lives. They become a new creation and they enter the Kingdom of God. As they grow in their knowledge of God, yielding their lives to obeying the teaching of Jesus they live a kingdom of God life.
This is what I see is at the heart of Fresh Expressions. Bringing the rule and reign of King Jesus into the public square, the marketplace and culture. There may be some resemblance to what we call church today but in much of today’s culture, church has lost its meaning – certainly its relevance to those in the culture who are not part of the church. What is church anyway? A building? A club? A service? A tribe? A community?This is what I see is at the heart of Fresh Expressions. Bringing the rule and reign of King Jesus into the public square, the marketplace and culture. Click To Tweet
The church in the cultural west has been in decline for about a hundred years, more drastic in some places and some denominations. Numbers tell one story and there is debate as to the cause — how and why the church has found itself in a marginalized position. The numbers also speak to opportunity.
As church leaders, church people, we have entered an uncharted landscape. The things we did in the past will not be effective today. What worked in the 20th century and before will not work in the 21st century. There is not a new strategy, program or plan that will return the church to what it was even fifty years ago. We will not be at the center of the culture the way we used to be. We will not make the church great again!
I was speaking at a conference of church leaders last spring, doing a session on What is Church. In the midst of the teaching I quipped, (this was not in my notes) I don’t want people to go to your churches. The folks were stunned. I went on and said, I want us, you and me to be the church going into the world!
The church has long focused its mission on getting people to come to church, filling the pews on a Sunday morning. Is this truly the mission? Rather than focusing our efforts on filling buildings with people we should have the intent to see people filled with God. That noble mission is seeing the Kingdom of God come near.Rather than focusing our efforts on filling buildings with people we should have the intent to see people filled with God. Click To Tweet
I wonder if Peter or Paul walked into a church in the USA on a Sunday morning if they would recognize what is going on as being the church? This goes for formal, traditional and liturgical churches as well as more modern expressions with all the audio-visual candy.
The culture has changed and we must adapt to it as well. There is a needed contextualization. This idea is not new. Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer in the English Reformation of the mid-1500’s employed this principle of context. He took the worship and practice of the church that was in a foreign language and translated into the vernacular of the people, something they could understand, know and embrace. The culture we live in does not speak “christian” anymore. Oh sure, there is the occasional reference to the faith, but it is fading.
Like in Cranmer’s day we need a reformation for the church, a true re-forming. In the Book of Acts in the New Testament, we read that the church is a gathering – in these passages of scripture, the Greek word used is, ekklesia; which rightly translated, means an assembly of people. This is a group of people as Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it, doing Life Together. We are to be a missional community with a purpose to see the Kingdom of God expand into the world, the rule and reign of Christ the King joyfully exerted over the life of every believer.
We live this life in the public eye. A Fresh Expression that we recently launched was a healing service at a local hospital. Lots of churches in my tradition have a weekly healing service they offer to the community. Some do well, others are marginal. However, in most cases people are expected to come to a service at a church. With the favor of the hospital administration, we were given permission to hold a healing service in a classroom at the hospital. We went to the people rather than expecting the people to come to us. A novel idea to have a healing service where there are sick people. We go to them.
We held a simple service of about fifteen minutes; a few prayers, a reflection on a biblical text and then if requested we anointed people with oil and laid hands on them with specific healing prayers offered, a closing benediction and we were done. Maybe it’s time for the church to leave the building and bring the Gospel to where people are; neighborhoods, parks, shopping, restaurants and more.
Maybe it is not an either/or but rather a both/and. We just got the order mixed up. We have concerns and we want to make the church grow. Could it be that if we focused on the Kingdom of God coming near that both would prosper and be fruitful? It might not look the same as it did before, it could be better!
The Rev. Jon Davis PhD is an Episcopal Priest, church planter, teacher, worship leader. He is on staff with Fresh Expressions as a mission strategist and is launching some Fresh Expression gatherings through the Abbey Mission in a NE suburb of Orlando. email@example.com