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 how to move from the first two main circles to 'exploring discipleship' through:
- showing Jesus;
- acts of kindness
- God talk;
- creative expressions of spirituality;
- missional worship;
- experiences of healing.
During the 'loving and serving' and 'building community' phases it is vital to awaken a desire to explore the Christian faith further. 'Showing Jesus' is our term for evangelism, a word that some Christians struggle with because of its connotations.
Some people fight shy of evangelism because it seems to square uneasily with our tolerant, respect-the-right-to-disagree culture. But evangelism is no more than offering the hospitality of God. God wants to welcome people into his triune life - into the communal life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The 'hospitality industry' - hotels, restaurants and the like - is big in our society. So why not feel relaxed about adding to it, especially since the hospitality we offer is free!
Acts of kindness
- a weekly prayer-for-healing group, perhaps convened by a team of Christian nurses in an area, might share in providing support for someone who was terminally ill and homebound.
- a group of young people that met regularly to chat about current affairs might keep returning to the theme of inequality; perhaps they decide to support a charity that works among the poor.
- a reading group might explore ways of providing financial support for the library of a secondary school in Uganda.
Many people want to do good but find this hard amid the pressures of their everyday lives. Belonging to a group with an altruistic dimension can help them to achieve some of the goodness that they aspire to. This may open their hearts to the source of all goodness and make them more willing to explore Jesus.
As we love others and build community among them, deeper relationships will develop naturally. Questions about life and what makes us tick will surface. Team members may share their faith stories, others may ask questions and and spiritual interest begins to grow. In time, individuals may welcome an opportunity to explore the Christian life in more detail.
Some members of the team may share their faith stories as a matter of course, while others may feel more reticent and awkward - 'Who am I to tell other people what to think?' They may prefer to let their actions speak for themselves, in the hope that their lives will reflect Christ.
A Godly life on its own doesn't automatically point people to Jesus
Others may imagine that the individual is just naturally a nice person and not think to probe deeper. Or they may be too shy to ask a leading question. The believer may have to say something to help others in the group make the connection with the Christian faith.
What is said needs to be at the appropriate level of communication. Without wanting to over-simplify, people talk to each other at broadly five levels:
- level 1: an exchange of greetings - 'Hi! How are you?' 'Fine, thanks.'
- level 2: an exchange of information - 'What time's the football match this evening?'
- level 3: an exchange of opinion - 'The manager should be sacked.'
- level 4: an exchange of feelings - 'I was so disappointed.'
- level 5: a sharing of one's innermost self - 'I felt humiliated by my attempt to play football on Saturday.'
Much everyday communication exists at levels 1 and 2, but when Christians think about sharing their faith they frequently imagine saying things at levels 3 or 4 or even 5. Yet in a level 1 and 2 exchange, it can feel awkward to inject something appropriate for the deeper levels. So Christians may struggle to find an opportunity to share their experience of God.
Christians may need help in thinking how to share their faith appropriately at levels 1 and 2
Hi! Did you have a good weekend?
Yes, thanks. We had a brilliant weekend away with our church.
That would be enough for someone else to connect the person's life with the fact that they are a Christian.
Later the other person might say,
Did you mention the other day that you go to church?
and that might become the opportunity for a level 3 or 4 conversation about God.
Of course, Christians don't need to have all the answers! It would be sufficient for the comment,
How can God allow all that suffering?
(a level 3 comment) to provoke the response,
I can't get my mind round it either. But I do know that when I lost my mum recently, Jesus felt very close to me.
The bottom line for a level 3, 4 or 5 conversation about faith is for the believer to have a personal story - preferably recent - of how Jesus has made a difference to their lives. Any question they can't answer can be met with a frank,
I don't know, but I do know that God made such-and-such a difference to me the other day.
The key thing is authenticity. Thinking about these different levels of communication shouldn't be a tool to encourage pat responses. Rather, it may be a helpful way to encourage some Christians to grow in confidence about sharing their faith.
As they imagine things that would be natural for them to say at conversation levels 1 and 2, they may find it easier to bring their faith into their everyday chit-chat.
Organising question-raising events can also be important
In your fresh expression, individuals are likely to be at different stages in their journey towards Jesus.
Some will be antagonistic, others indifferent, some may have a vague interest, others may be interested but are put off by unanswered questions, while others again may be actively exploring the Christian faith. (This is sometimes known as the Engel Scale.)
Obviously, someone who is antagonistic or indifferent won't make the journey to faith in one leap. They will need time and often a series of inputs that will awaken interest, warm their hearts and open them to the possibility of discovering more about Jesus.
On a housing estate where a church planting team has launched a variety of interest groups - a mums-and-toddlers group, an over-50s club, a lads-and-dads football team, and so on - the team might invite members of these groups to a 'wrap your Christmas presents' morning with mulled wine. During the time together, a member of the team might give a five minute talk about what Christmas means to Christians.
At other times of the year the team might invite, for example:
- a sports personality to talk about their life and faith;
- a Christian teacher to talk about how you can identify a good school (including the values that make it good);
- a parent with a disabled child to talk about how their faith has helped them to cope;
- a banker to talk about managing your personal finances and the spiritual aspects of money.
If individuals express an interest after these talks, team members might say,
We're thinking of putting on a few evenings for people to explore spirituality further. Would you be interested?
When there are enough takers, the team might organise a low-key series of pre-Alpha evenings. If the group gels and the evenings are blessed, members might be invited to a follow-up series, perhaps based on Alpha or Christianity Explored. The Emmaus course might follow, as the group evolves into a cell church.
Hopefully the process can be repeated and further cells emerge. Every few weeks the cells might cluster together to give members a taste of church on a larger scale.
Creative expressions of spirituality
These can help put the spiritual dimension of life on to the agenda. Often groups will contain individuals who have an artistic bent. Why not encourage them to use their gifts to express their spiritual longings and questions? A major festival, such as Christmas, Easter or (in rural areas) harvest, might provide an opportunity.
Poems, paintings, photos and other forms of art might be placed on tables for people to look at, or hung on walls where appropriate. Inevitably, they will become a talking point, perhaps creating a chance for Christians to share their stories.
In particular, as individuals use the art to talk about their spiritual questions and experiences, they will grow in confidence. Talking about spirituality may become a little easier. Those who contributed a creative piece may feel recognised and affirmed by the questions and comments of others in the group.
As with mission worship, members of the group may become less hesitant in their belief that there is a spiritual dimension to life, they may be helped to crystallise their ideas about what this spiritual dimension involves and their appetite may be whetted to explore more.
If you know of a fresh expression that has used creative expressions of spirituality effectively, might you provide details in the comment section at the end?
This is appropriate worship for people who only half believe or feel confused. It is our term for 'apt liturgy', which Ann Morisy has written about (in Journeying Out, Morehouse, 2004, pp156-161). 'Apt liturgy' is worship for people who have some sense that there is more to life than a purely material existence.
It involves the thoughtful use of symbols and stories about Jesus that resonate with the struggles of individuals who don't normally go to church. Apt liturgy can help people:
- to become more confident in their belief that there is a spiritual dimension to life;
- to crystallise their vague notions about spirituality;
- to ponder a story about Jesus that resonates with their experience;
- to become more sensitised to sin.
The following might be examples of missional worship (or 'apt liturgy'):
A parenting course
This might be based on Christian values, which are explained and perhaps illustrated from Scripture. At the end of the evening there might be 15 minutes of Christian reflection, with candles on a table, some meditative Christian music, a short reading from Scripture, time for silent prayer and a couple of spoken prayers.
An after-school club
At the end, children might be invited to tell a friend their hopes and fears for the next day.
The children might then pray for each other, silently or out loud, or by writing something on a piece of paper that they put folded into a bowl at the centre of the group.
The next time the club meets, the children might share whether they had any answers to prayer. (It would be important to make clear to parents in advance that this would be part of the club's programme).
In a drop-in centre
Christian helpers might hold a short, reflective communion service in the middle of the day in the room next door. Anyone would be welcome to attend, or write down prayer requests to be included in the service.
Or the centre might have a spiritual zone, a room appropriately decorated, which anyone could visit at any time. Individuals might be encouraged to post requests for prayer. Might this become part of people's conversations, creating opportunities for sensitive Christian witness? Easton Methodist Church's Café Church has done something like this.
A language café
Language Café, for women on a housing estate in North West London, meets weekly café-style. The women talk in small groups to develop their language skills.
As a possible step towards church, the women are invited to write names of people they are concerned about on a prayer board. The team prays for each name after the meeting.
There has been encouraging feedback from the women, who have started to open up about situations locally and in their home countries.
A community café
TANGO, a thrice-weekly church-run community café and household goods exchange, provides a social service in a Merseyside parish. Once a week, a 'Quiet Time' runs alongside the café, offering a chance for prayerful reflection to all comers.
A course on managing money
This might be advertised as including opportunities to explore the spiritual meaning of money. This spiritual exploration might include an Ignatian meditation at the end of the session, based on a New Testament story about money.
A book club with a difference
This might finish with silent meditation as participants are invited to pray to God as they understand him (or her), or if they don't believe in God to use the head space to think some positive thoughts.
After a few sessions, people could be asked to share their hopes and concerns for the week ahead, and then to pray for (or think positively about) each other. The leader could pray that God would answer their prayers. People with answered prayers might be invited to share these with the group, creating a springboard for further discussion.
As spiritual interest grows, the leader might ask if any in the group would like to learn more about how God responds to prayer and what sort of God he is. Together, they might journey gradually into the Christian faith.
Experiences of healing
These can play an important part in opening individuals to God. In a culture that strongly values experience, healing can give people a touch of God.
Healing may come through:
- the love of Christian friends;
- the prayer of Christians (in their personal devotions or corporate worship);
- healing services;
- other kinds of prayer ministry - not raising unrealistic expectations is clearly important.
The principle can be extended to seeing answers to prayer more generally.