I remember my first few encounters with Fresh Expressions US, which seem so long ago—but not really…
The first was a Vision Day I attended in Northern Virginia as a seminary student in 2012, and the second was the 2013 National Gathering, where I volunteered to do a live-blog each day for the website and Facebook. The movement has come a long way since then, and I tell people I have had the privilege of watching the Holy Spirit move both ahead of us and push us from behind at the same time, as we both discover and equip leaders to start fresh expressions of church.
But over these last eight years, one question has kept bugging me. A lot. I’ve started several fresh expressions of church in my own ministry, I have led Vision Days in many different places around the country, and I have coached pioneers and pastors in many different circumstances. Along the way, I have seen some churches start fresh expressions of church, but I have seen others never get off the ground. I have seen some pioneers leave Vision Days and then a couple months later they have something new on their hands, but I have seen other pioneers who never move from the place they began. And so, my question is “why?”
Why do some start fresh expressions while others don’t?
After prayerfully looking back on the last few years of my ministry with Fresh Expressions US, thinking about the many stories I’ve heard and the churches I’ve worked with, I think I’ve come up with an answer to my question. And it’s somewhat simple.
The biggest reason why some never start a fresh expression of church is because they never actually TRY to start one.
They end in the idea stage.
They go back to what they know.
They never take an action step.The biggest reason why some never start a fresh expression of church is because they never actually TRY to start one. Click To Tweet
But why? Why this “failure to launch,” when fresh expressions of church have been popping up in so many different places and have proven to be successful in connecting with people who will not attend church services, people on the edge of faith, people turned off by religion?
I believe three factors often come in to play. Perhaps you find yourself facing one or all three of these. I’ve provided a few phrases that seem to be common to each factor, as well as several questions you might ask yourself, your team, and your church if you still desire to join the fresh expressions journey. And you should make plans to join us at this year’s Fresh Expressions National Gathering, where we will give you practical tools to actually start something new and stop just thinking about it.
Three sticking points that end a fresh expression before it starts:
Being stuck in fear.
- “What if nobody shows up?”
- “What do I tell my church if we invest in this but it doesn’t work?”
- “What if I finally convince them to try this and they never trust me again?”
Good questions to ask:
- What could happen if people DO show up?
- Who will your church never reach if you continue to do what you’re doing right now?
- What do you REALLY have to lose (often our imagination amplifies the cost/risk)?
- How could you further cast the vision for fresh expressions of church and involve some of your doubters (even asking them to commit to prayer)?
- Have you sought the Lord’s direction and courage? Isn’t the story of Scripture one of everyday people often taking risks for God?
Being stuck in busyness.
- “We have so many ministries and programs going on already.”
- “I can’t add another thing to my plate.”
- “What if this whole fresh expressions thing is just another fad?”
Good questions to ask:
- Are the ministries that are currently going on truly reaching new people or discipling people?
- Do you have large numbers for events, but few ongoing relationships with the attendees?
- What ineffective ministry have we been putting off ending?
- Who else (besides the pastor) could I invite to be a part of leading something like this?
Being stuck in planning mode.
- “Our committee has been meeting for six months about this.”
- “We’ve discerned a laundry list of things we could do. But we don’t know what to do.”
- “I’m in the middle of getting approval from the pastor, evangelism committee, and council. But have to wait til next month.”
Good questions to ask:
- What is one small step you could take in the next two weeks?
- What one direction do you sense God is leading you to focus on?
- How could you frame your fresh expression as an “experiment” to church leadership?
Don’t end your fresh expressions journey before it starts. Just about every fruitful fresh expression of church at some point faces at least one of these sticking points. The key is prayerful perseverance, asking the right questions, and taking practical steps.
And it’s worth it.
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.