Welcome to the June 2011 edition of e-xpressions. Stories and updates on our website this month include:
- Barney and Judes;
- Presence - update (an update to the story of Presence);
- St George's, Deal.
New audio and video on our site includes:
- Jonny Baker on the new CMS pioneer training course;
- Paul Bayes on trying to make the 'mixed economy' work on the ground.
You can also hear material from the on-day conference on building contemplative ecclesial communities out of contextual mission:
- David Cherry on Christian spirituality as a vehicle for mission;
- Ian Mobsby on the Trinity as Christian spirituality and forms of church;
- Ian Adams on post-secular spiritual questors: an opportunity for mission;
- Tessa Holland on the exploration of the apostolic dimension of the contemplative way.
You can listen to all of our latest audio and material from our on demand page.
The missing generation
One of the most painful realities of church life in the UK is the absence of young adults. If 7.5% of the population are in church on an average Sunday, it is only three percent of those in their twenties and thirties. Of these, more than a quarter worship in London, and many more worship in large churches round the country that have developed significant ministries for this age group. These churches often have a major emphasis on discipleship, are not growing consumer Christians and are a vital resource for the church nationally, both now and for the long term future. But the fact remains that the twenties and thirties age group is as good as missing from the majority of churches.
Conversations at Soul Survivor's Momentum event also showed that some keen Christians in this age group are hanging on to church by the skin of their teeth, more out of loyalty than anything else. Some also spoke of the difficulty of reconnecting to 'ordinary' church after a few years of student Christianity. Christian ministry on campus put some off and demanded all the extra curricula time available from others. The result was disconnection from normal church life. Many students then moved to find a job and found no-one within twenty years of their age group when they tried to join a local church. In a culture which changes so fast, that is a substantial gulf.
In theory, fresh expressions have majored on those who have never been involved in church, even if in practice many first attempts at a fresh expression draw in people with some former church background. This generation provides us with a major challenge in both categories. We need to plant fresh expressions which have a primary focus on young adults and we need some of those well-discipled young adults to take a lead. Good pioneer ministry will be needed. We also need to find ways to network and support those young adults who continue as ones or twos in much older congregations, so that they do not give up and leave, but can fully play their part.
But above all we need to listen to those who are struggling to remain or who have given up. In the UK one third of all adults are de-churched. People have been pouring through the back doors of Britain's churches for decades now, with little local attempt to ask them why. There is no point trying to plant fresh expressions for those who have given up the struggle with church, let alone for their many non-churched contemporaries, if we do not find out what the problems are! The listening process, which lies at the birth of any fresh expression of church, is even more vital here.
There seem to be some distinctive characteristics of this generation – most notably many have a real struggle with commitment and closure. This is not because they are weaker or less spiritual than other generations, it is substantially the consequence of the culture which formed them. Put this together with churches that can be conservative about change and are older than the average of the population and some of the difficulties come into clearer focus. But nothing replaces careful local listening. In South Africa recently I spoke with younger Dutch Reformed pastors, who were teenagers during Apartheid and who want to remain in their church, but struggle to trust it. It gave me an interesting parallel.
I do not believe that the struggles of young adults are necessarily an indication of future generations. The teenagers I meet at Soul Survivor are different again. But for the sake of God's kingdom and of his church as its sign, instrument and foretaste, I believe this is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
Graham writes regularly in the Church of England Newspaper and other places - you can read his contributions each month on the Graham Cray in print page of our website. This month, Graham explores Paying our debts - The Junction.
I've always believed that the Christian gospel is good news to all - good news to the poor, the sick, the marginalised, the addicted, the lonely, good news to the broken - and the list could go on. The problem is, a lot of my friends won't go near church because their experience has been anything but good - they have either left feeling they couldn't connect with it, or worse still, they left feeling judged and excluded. I felt pretty gutted that many of my friends had had that experience.
I guess that was the beginning of the journey. I wanted to be a part of a church that both embodied the teaching and message of Jesus and that sought to be relevant to its culture and its context; a place where people could have a laugh together yet also feel safe enough to bring their pain and disappointments; a church that loved and served others, where people found a sense of belonging and community, a cause to live for and a hope to long for.
This is an extract from Pete Hughes' contribution to on the edge, our DVD and booklet featuring 14 pioneers who share their experiences of starting church from scratch - including Mark Broomhead, Annie Kirke, Harry Steele, Michael Volland, Jennifer Middleton, Ben Norton, Gareth Powell, Jill Duff, Amy Orr-Ewing, Pete Hughes and Ben Edson.
Normally £8, you can currently get this DVD and booklet at half-price for just £4 from our online shop - just enter the code pioneer11 at the checkout.
If you're in the North West, make a date to come to the mission-shaped Lancashire day in Blackburn on Saturday 16th July.
With input from Graham Cray, Stephen Lindridge and Andrew Roberts and an extensive selection of workshops, the day aims to inspire you with some of the ways God is expanding the kingdom and growing the church in the UK today through different expressions of church.
The day starts with coffee from 9am and ends at 3.45pm. Places are limited and are just £7 including refreshments.
To book, you can download a booking form from our website, where you can also find further information and contact details.
CMS Pioneer hub
As we reported last week, the latest CMS pioneer newsletter says that:
The pilot year has been a success so we're definitely going to be training pioneers from now on! It's hard to believe we are nearly at the end of the pilot year. BIG THANKS to the guys who have taken the risk of being the first group on the course. It's gone so well we haven't had to think too hard about whether to continue beyond the pilot.
The church always has a choice between fear and hope
If you missed Paul Bayes discussing the mixed economy, catch him now on our on demand page.
Have a good month,
The Fresh Expressions team.