We have suggested a simple way of thinking about how fresh expressions develop. We've called it A fresh expressions journey and it is summarised in this diagram:
This page looks in more detail at 'exploring discipleship' and 'church taking shape'.
- How might 'showing Jesus' encourage people to explore the Christian faith?
- 'Exploring discipleship' can be done in a number of ways.
- 'Church' may emerge as the explorers group develops its Christian life together.
How might 'showing Jesus' encourage people to explore the Christian faith?
In Moving from 'loving' to 'exploring' we suggest a number of ways that Jesus can be shown to people as part of the process of 'loving and serving' and 'building community'. This may encourage some people to explore Jesus further.
Many people may need a long time
Many people may need years of 'seeing' Jesus through acts of kindness, God talk, creative expressions of spirituality, missional worship and experiences of healing before they are ready to explore the Christian faith further. They may:
- need to shake off a bad experience of church.
- have very little Christian background, so it is all new and strange to them.
- have been bought up in a different faith.
- be older - exploring discipleship might force them to question a lifetime of assumptions.
A series of stepping stones may help individuals travel towards God's love at their own pace. A mums and toddlers group, for example, might invite carers, mums and dads to a Christingle service, with mulled wine and mince pies afterwards for the adults and food and drink for the kids.
It might hold an all-age barbecue in the summer, with a talk by a Christian sports personality. It might also host a termly parents evening for people to get to know each other and perhaps hear a Christian parent describing how their faith helped them survive the 'terrible twos', for instance.
Maybe after one of these events a dad says he found the talk quite interesting. The convener of the group might respond that they are thinking of holding six evenings to explore Christian spirituality in more detail. Might he be interested? When enough people express an interest, the group would form.
'Exploring Jesus' can be done in a number of ways.
Why wait? One-to-one Bible study, perhaps going through the gospel of Mark or John, might help the individual journey towards Christ. When there are enough other people to form an explorers group, maybe this emerging Christian can help to lead it.
(Involving new Christians in leadership as soon as possible will help to sustain your fresh expression. See Sustaining a fresh expression.)
How might a group form?
An explorers group might form in response to a simple invitation: 'Would you like to join us for a few evenings to explore spirituality? Jesus is known as one of the world's greatest spiritual teachers, so we're going to look at some of the stories he told and see if we agree with them.'
Or the group might use one of the published courses available, including Essence, The Y Course, Alpha, Christianity Explored or Emmaus. Maybe the material will have to be adapted to the group, or you might even pick-'n'-mix from several courses.
If one course is a hit, you might ask the group if they would like to meet for another series of evenings, using a different course. Essence, a course on Christian spirituality for people with no Christian background, might prepare the way for The Y Course, which might then be followed by Alpha or Christianity Explored.
If travelling to Jesus is a journey, you need suitable material for each stage of the journey. Individuals with little Christian background and who are rather tentative about exploring the Christian faith may not be ready for Alpha or Christianity Explored. They may find a pre-Alpha course more helpful.
The aim would not be that the course becomes a step into church on Sunday. Rather, the prayer would be that the group stays together and becomes a worshipping cell in its own right.
A cell church on a new Northamptonshire estate provides a good example. Grange Park church became aware that young mums were looking for companionship. With the help of a local health visitor, a weekly social gathering was established, which later gave rise to toddler services and discipleship courses.
'Church' may emerge as the explorers group develops its Christian life together
Members of the group would slowly become church as they
- grow through worship, personal devotions and study;
- become more sacrificial in their love for people outside the group;
- develop deeper relationships between themselves;
- increase their commitment to the whole body of Christ.
An Alpha course was held in a teashop in a former mining town in Nottinghamshire. Several years and several Alpha courses on, a new church has formed. Fellowship@Grannies still meets in the teashop on a weekday evening, and its members now lead and support successive Alphas.
A Church Army officer moved to an estate created out of a former US air base. By building friendships with his neighbours, he discovered a desire to explore 'church' on this church-less estate. Starting with Alpha, a new Christian community has developed and Heyford Chapel has taken on a life of its own.
Linking up with other Christians is especially important
- a small group of emerging Christians needs the stimulus of other believers.
- new Christians can be greatly encouraged to see that they are part of a bigger movement.
- the resources of the wider church, such as CDs, books, weekend retreats, festivals and major worship events, can be a huge aid to discipleship.
What might you do if you are leading a small cell of emerging Christians?
Is there a possibility that another cell might form?
Perhaps a school has invited you to lead parenting support groups. A small cell of emerging believers has grown from the first of these groups. Might other groups lead to further cells? Or are you working on a new housing estate? You've got so many contacts that a second explorers group looks possible.
As new cells form, you might bring the cells together in a cluster every few weeks - for a social, or teaching, or worship or a combination of these. The cluster would provide individuals with a larger experience of church. You may want to read Bob Hopkins & Mike Breen, clusters: creative mid-sized missional communities, 3DM Publications, 2007.
A young mums' Alpha course matured into a cell in a 'mixed economy' benefice in rural Norfolk. The mums at 4All started a monthly toddler service, gradually taking over leadership of it from their team rector. Following this success, they went on to lead an Alpha course of their own.
Are you linked to a local church?
Maybe your fresh expression is an offshoot of a local church. In which case, what might you do together with the larger church? Possibilities might include a joint weekend retreat, a family fun day together, a series of six evenings introducing the New Testament, celebrating Holy Week together or perhaps even a combined church holiday.
Might you take your cell to a large festival
Could you go to Greenbelt, the Walsingham Pilgrimage, Spring Harvest or Soul Survivor? If your cell comprises teenagers, might you take them to a Scripture Union summer camp? Is there a local youth celebration you can take them to? Or once a month, might you take the group to a different church in the area and discuss members' reactions?
Might you try a combination of these?
Jesus calls people to full commitment and whole-life discipleship. So, as interest grows, emerging Christians will need opportunities to learn more about the Christian faith. They will need care and nurture to become established as Christians and to learn the habits of life-long spiritual growth. Drawing on the resources of the wider church will be vital.