It’s a term that gets used a lot these days, despite nobody having heard of it only a few years ago – but what exactly is a ‘Fresh Expression’?
The other articles of this series are:
Nobody can fail to have noticed that the world has changed a lot over the last few years – rapid technological advancement, a geographically mobile population, and a seismic shift in gender roles and family shapes has meant that Britain in the first couple of decades of this millennium is very different from the Britain of as little as 30 years ago.
As the way society looks has changed, so has the way church looks – many ‘traditional’ churches are struggling to keep their congregations, and have had to move into a ‘maintenance’ rather than a ‘mission’ way of thinking.
Still others have tried to appeal to the new generation by turning a Sunday morning meeting into a high tech concert, with speakers who have the panache of stand up comedians, and bands which sound as if they could be playing a rock festival.
However, many question this approach – pointing out that it remains essentially the same as that which has gone before – it’s what they describe as an ‘attractional’ model – essentially throwing open the church doors and saying ‘come on in – there’s good stuff here’.
The claim is sometimes made that these kinds of churches grow primarily through Christians from other less ‘contemporary’ congregations shifting to the new place.
In preference to that, some groups of Christians have adopted what they describe as a ‘missional’ approach – taking church to communities where they find them – sometimes meetings take place in church buildings, at other times they happen in cafes, pubs, houses, parks, offices… the list goes on.
As a growing movement of missional church has developed it has been given formal recognition within certain denominations, who have begun to talk about, and offer support to ‘Fresh Expressions’ of church.
These Fresh Expressions aren’t built on a particular model – there is no blue print to follow, the emphasis is always on planting or trying something which is appropriate in its own context.
"A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church." Bishop Graham Cray
A meeting of model train enthusiasts who share an interest in Christianity may be relevant in one place, a way for skateboarders to get together may be perfect somewhere else.
Various groups now exist, some look quite like ‘normal’ church, albeit a bit messy around the edges. Others look very different – book clubs, musical groups, subculture specific outreach intitatives – the list is almost endless.
But the emphasis is always on mission – and this is what really denotes a Fresh Expression – whatever it looks like, it will have an emphasis on reaching out to the community around it.
Fresh expressions are estimated to involve tens of thousands of people, some of whom would call themselves Christians, others who wouldn’t – but all of whom are exploring the way of God together.
August 6th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Simon Cross