Welcome to the July edition of e-xpressions. Stories and updates on our website this month include:
- Riverforce (featured on expressions: the dvd - 2);
- Dream (featured on our old website) with a Dream update;
- Holy Space (featured on expressions: the dvd - 1) with a Holy Space update;
- Mind the Gap (featured on expressions: the dvd - 1);
- Colin Brown;
- Fellowship@Grannies (featured in our November 2008 podcast) with a Fellowship@Grannies update.
July's podcast includes a longer interview with Colin Brown discussing his transition from the Fresh Expressions team to exploring how to start a community amongst the artist community in Cornwall, as well as an update from Food for Thought (featured on our website back in February). There's also an interview with Steve Hollinghurst about his new book on evangelism and, in our podcast extra this month, the team from the Nomad podcast catch Rowan Williams in a forthcoming mood. Listen online now!
Too big for fresh expressions?
It is sometimes assumed that big (for the UK) churches have no need to engage with fresh expressions. But that is not the case for a number of reasons.
Some large churches are already very ably involved in fresh expressions. My old parish, St Michael le Belfrey York, has both Visions and G2 (very different models) in addition to its range of Sunday congregations.
We need to recognize that big does not necessarily mean growing or missional. Large churches can have plateaued or can be in substantial decline, or just be recycling Christians from other churches. Size can cloak decline, reasonable Sunday numbers can make the church seem healthier than it really is, and a demanding program of activities can so consume a congregation's energies and attention, that no one notices that the congregation is ageing and no longer reaching new people.
In recent years some larger churches have realized that their well established patterns of mission and evangelism were no longer fruitful. As a result they have transitioned to new models of ministry – often a cell approach or mid-size communities (sometimes called missional clusters) which are fresh expressions strategies being used on a larger scale.
Many larger churches have targeted congregations anyway. Different services are geared to different age groups or sections of society. The idea is not to segment the congregation, but to make its ministry available to a wider range of people.
It is only a short step to realize that fresh expressions can further expand that range. Appropriate fresh expressions planted in different locations and meeting at different times can help a church to reach people it would not otherwise reach.
Leaders of large churches know that part of their task is to break larger congregations down into smaller pastoral units, so why not make the core structure smaller mission focused units instead?
The real challenge is the same for large churches as for small. The question is who would we never reach by just doing things the way we do? And do we have a gospel responsibility to those who are never likely to be part of our church as it is now? Large churches are used to persuading people to come, but the command of Jesus is still to go, and more and more people will remain unreached if we only use an attractional approach.
When large churches get full they often multiply or duplicate services, but instead of doing two or more the same, why not plant a whole range of fresh expressions. In this way large churches are uniquely equipped to embody the mixed economy.
But there is a bigger and potentially more strategic challenge. Large churches can either become a drain on the ministry of the churches around them, because they draw in such a substantial proportion of local or commuting Christians, or they can be resource churches, helping smaller churches around them to plant fresh expressions as well.
Fresh expressions is a way of bringing the gospel to communities and networks we are other wise failing to reach – size of church has little to do with it – the missionary challenge remains the same for us all.
Bishop Graham is now writing regularly in the Church of England Newspaper - you can read his contributions each month on the Bishop Graham in the CEN page of our website - this month he Dreams about the mixed economy.
The Guide, a major part of the Share website, has for the past three years been an invaluable online manual containing how-to-do-it advice on starting, developing and sustaining fresh expressions of church. Pages are being added all the time and the latest is a brand new contents page, clearly listing each page. Well worth browsing!
Another new page on the Guide is a look at fresh expressions for adults with learning disabilities, with practical advice and principles and two real-life examples. What can these fresh expressions teach us about the way we see church?
It's not too late to subscribe to Share thoughts, the free, monthly e-bulletin from Share. It aims to help you reflect, in bite-size chunks, on the theology and practice - the whys and hows - of fresh expressions. Sign up to receive Share thoughts at the beginning of every month.
Graham Cray called this month for those involved in new ways of being church to consider standing for this year's General Synod elections, to "see the mixed economy church reflected in the Church's governing body." You can find out more details in our media release.
You can also listen to Rowan Williams' address to Methodist Conference, reflecting on ecumenism, the wider society and fresh expressions.
Finally, the Church of England General Synod unanimously passed Richard Moy's private member's motion encouraging the Archbishops' Council to identify sources of funding for the production of an online library of visual and video resources for worship, to help hard-pressed church leaders use creative material in both mission and congregational contexts. Again, you can find out more in our media release.
The summer festival season is nearly upon us and you can catch Fresh Expressions speakers at the following delightful locations:
At New Wine North he'll be speaking on leadership and discernment on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th August - exploring the themes in his recently-launched Grove booklet.
Then he'll be at Soul Survivor weeks B and C chairing a panel of practitioners exploring models of youth congregations (14.30, 14th/19th August), teaching on Lessons for young leaders from Timothy and Titus (14.30, 15th/20th August) and leading a seminar on the last year in popular music (16:00, 13th/18th August).
Finally he'll be at Momentum leading three seminars on planting fresh expressions of church (09:30, 22nd/23rd/24th August) and again on discerning leadership (14:30, 25th August).
And if you're at Greenbelt on Saturday 28th August you might want to visit the new Methodist venue where you can hear from Stephen Lindridge, Ian Bell (VentureFX) and pioneer minister Simon Sutcliffe. A whole host of fresh expressions leaders and practitioners will also be present throughout the festival leading worship, speaking and sharing, including Ian Mobsby, Ian Adams and the teams from Transcendence, Grace, Blesséd, Contemplative Fire, Feig, Messy Church, Moot, Sanctus1 and StillPoint.
Training, jobs and events
After the summer break, mission shaped ministry kicks off in the Autumn in Edinburgh, Kent and South East, North East, York, Surrey and Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, South Wales, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire and Stoke on Trent - sign up now! Contact your local course on the links above for details.
You can check out other related events we're aware of on our training and events page.
If you are aware of a job in fresh expressions then we'd be delighted to share it on our jobs page - please send the details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Currently we're aware of a Core Team Worker for the Moot Community in London and volunteers for the Cafechurch Network.
Have you joined the Share Community yet? Gather and share online with others who are pioneering new forms of church. See you there!
Have a good month,
The Fresh Expressions team.