Fresh Expressions of Church - By all means save some!?
As a Diocese, we are committed to finding all means possible to make the Gospel more widely known. A theological college football team goalkeeper wore a shirt with a slogan from the Apostle Paul: By All Means Save Some!
We live in a changing context. New ways need to be explored to reach people who haven’t grown up with a conscious Christian worldview. There are more and more people whose life-experience has been gained entirely outside the influence of any of the historic churches. The diagram (right) roughly describes people’s experience of Christian influence and teaching. The 40% marked “non-churched” are so far away from the assumptions of our inherited modes of church expression that it is a very long journey back for them. This proportion of the population is growing. However, some of them are in touch with Christians at work, in the community, or in social contexts. A growing number of Christians want to reach out to friends who find inherited forms of church irrelevant to their questions. New ways are being tried of helping such friends get in touch with their spirituality. Fresh expressions of Church are springing up – some planted strategically by their local parish, some arising spontaneously from the desire of local Christians to reach their non-churched friends or colleagues. The Mission Shaped Church Report (2004) spoke of “fresh expressions of church in a changing context.” Archbishop Rowan Williams speaks passionately of our need for a “mixed economy of traditional and fresh expressions of Church.” Fresh Expressions of Church have been defined as “a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.” The key characteristics of a Fresh Expression of Church are usually stated as:
- MISSIONAL – serving the outsider – the person who will not feel at home in our inherited models of Church
- INCARNATIONAL – entering their culture, understanding their world – just as Jesus entered and shared our life experience
- EDUCATIONAL – forming disciples of Jesus Christ – nothing less than converted, transformed and growing disciples is the clear goal
- ECCLESIAL – becoming Church – though perhaps not “Church” as we have traditionally known it
That last criterion is perhaps the most telling. Quite often people think that if they have a guitar playing in a morning service, that’s a “Fresh Expression”, or if they have a service for toddlers and carers, that’s a “Fresh Expression.” The result is that the words “Fresh Expression” can become vague and meaningless. To be a Fresh Expression in the full sense, there must be an understanding that this gathering of people for worship, learning, sharing and discipleship is in itself “Church” – not a “bridge” to get people into “proper Church.” This raises interesting challenges about sacraments, about accountability to inherited and continuing structures, about allowing freedom across historic parish boundaries. However, if we are going to reach the growing segment of our population who won’t come to us, we must find ways of going to them, whatever format of “Church” results.