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 'loving and serving':
- Why is this a fruitful starting point for a fresh expression of church?
- What might it involve?
- Should fresh expressions never start with worship?
Loving and serving will often be a fruitful starting point
Mark 10.45 gives Jesus' summary of his purpose: to serve and to lay down his life for others. Jesus spent his ministry on the road, responding to people's needs in their homes or at work. He did not invite them to the synagogue. He loved them in their everyday lives.
Fresh expressions follow the same principle. A couple might seek to serve their neighbours. Or a core of 30 Christians might form clusters of three or four people, who have a common interest that they share with friends; making their passion available to others becomes an act of love. There are many possibilities.
At its best, loving other people avoids one-way giving ('We're serving you') and seeks mutuality - 'How can we serve each other?' It involves paying attention to the other person - listening to them and attending to their needs and interests.
What can loving and serving involve?
The following categories roughly equate to the four dimensions of church - 'out', 'up', 'in' and 'of' - discussed in Are fresh expressions proper church?. They underline the many different ways in which you can start a venture. Listening is the foundation: as you listen prayerfully to people you may be called to serve, you can discover their needs and longings – and perhaps lovingly respond.
This might entail serving a specific neighbourhood or a particular network. There are huge needs in today's society, many of which fall under the radar of government and other agencies. How could Christians pray 'Your kingdom come' without trying to respond to these needs?
Perhaps in partnership with others, a fresh expression might start as a support group for the bereaved, a meal for the homeless, a morning coffee shop for mothers and nannies who want to chat, a campaign to support a local farmers' market, a course on personal finance, Sunday afternoon tea for older people, a sports club for teenagers, a recovery group for partners who have separated...
The possibilities are immense. As these groups develop, members will serve and enrich each other.
A Baptist church in Hereford, situated between clubs and pubs, found it had a litter problem on Sunday mornings. Creating a team of litter pickers, members began to clear up the mess on Saturday nights, chatting with clubbers in the process.
Now the church opens its foyer to those out on the town and Night Shift has become an integral part of Hereford nightlife. Some on the team are asking how they can build on these contacts to create opportunities for discipleship.
Being a loving friend can be hugely influential. Some people naturally attract others and have a big impact on their networks. A Christian with that gift, and the gift of chatting naturally about his or her faith, might use acts of kindness to go the second mile with their friends. One or two friends might wonder, 'Is she kind because she is a Christian?'
'Of course I'll pray for your mum' might be followed by, 'It actually worked!' A later discussion about spirituality might lead to the suggestion, 'Why don't we meet two or three times, try some prayer and see what happens? We could start with a meal.' Friendships might take on a new dimension.
Or maybe friends in sheltered accommodation enjoy sewing. As they sew, they tell each other more about themselves. One talks about her Christian faith. Another remarks, 'I wish I had faith like yours.'
Others agree, they talk about it for a while, and then the first woman suggests, 'Before we go home, why don't we have a few minutes of quietness, when each of us can ask God to give us more faith? I'll say a short prayer at the end.' Prayer becomes a regular feature of the gathering, and simple Bible study follows soon after...
Sharing your interest, sharing your life, sharing your faith, sharing their journey (as they explore Christianity) may be possible with quite a few groups of friends.
American 'church starter and pastor', Neil Cole, has seen hundreds of small churches form in just a few years, nearly all on the basis of friendships. New Christians tell their friends what a difference Jesus makes. They invite people who are interested back home or to some other venue to explore the Christian faith. Church emerges in their midst. His book, Organic Church (Jossey-Bass, 2005), is well worth a read.
Loving and serving might involve helping people to explore their spiritual longings and experiences. Many people are interested in spirituality, a term that can cover anything from the meaning of life to contact with the supernatural. It would be a tragedy if other groups responded to this interest, but the church did not!
Might a fresh expression start as an evening class on 'mysticism' in the local Further Education college, or a course on 'holistic spirituality' in a leisure centre, or a lunch-time 'spiritual zone' in which secondary schoolchildren talk about their spiritual experiences, or an evening prayer and healing service launched by Christian doctors in an area, or an Alpha course that becomes an Alpha congregation?
These activities may become the foundations of more mature expressions of church. But even if they don't, they will be worthwhile in themselves, especially if they develop a sense of community in which participants share with one another.
An assistant minister who was a trained counsellor set up a monthly gathering, Safe Haven, for people with mental illness.
Open to all regardless of faith, the minister's discovered her Abbey Church to be the favoured location of those seeking a 'spiritual home' in the midst of everyday struggles.
In some cases, it might be an act of love to take non-churchgoers to a large Christian event such as Greenbelt, or the Spring Harvest summer camp (in Europe) or to Taizé, where they can take part in the activities, experience the warmth of Christian love and hear their questions discussed.
A teacher might take a school group to a Christian youth camp one summer, or a youth worker might take some teenagers to a monthly town-wide Christian youth celebration, or a friend might drag some mates to Soul Survivor, a summer Christian festival for young people. Subsequently, they might meet regularly over a pizza to explore what they had begun to learn and experience.
A skateboard church in Essex was partly born at Soul Survivor. A youth congregation developed a vision for providing a drop-in centre for local youngsters.
On one of several trips to Soul Survivor, members of Legacy XS were inspired by a skate park. Now a youth centre has become a place for both skateboarding and church.
Should fresh expressions ever start with worship?
After all, some conventional church plants have begun with worship and preaching, and been highly fruitful. Are they not following St Paul's example? His evangelism was based on preaching.
Before jumping to conclusions, one might note that Paul's preaching was often accompanied by miracles. Weren't these miracles acts of compassion? His letters (and letters attributed to him) are full or exhortations to live Godly lives.
Expressing the love of Christ, accompanied by appropriate forms of witness to God, is intrinsic to the 'fresh expressions journey'.
The trouble with starting with a worship service is that you know who is most likely to come - other Christians! A worship service may not be the most natural starting-point if you want to reach people who don't go to church.
Conventional church plants do seem to be fruitful in some contexts
They appear to work especially well, for example, among young adults who are well networked (so have lots of friends to invite) and who have just moved to a new city.
These new arrivals may be Christians who are looking for a church to join, or they may be people who have stopped going to church or - sometimes - never went to church. They are seeking friendship, which they find in the meal-based events put on by the church plant.
We would stretch' loving and serving' to include these types of church
Provided the leaders have first listened carefully to the people they feel called to serve. If high on the agendas of people the plant seeks to reach are a desire for belonging and to get answers to spiritual questions, a church plant emphasising fellowship, apologetics, discipleship and worship may well offer an appropriate form of love.
In many cases, however, the gulf between church and people outside will be too wide to be bridged in this way. Other forms of love, like those we have described, may be more appropriate.
In your experience, what role should worship play in the launch of a church plant/fresh expression? There is space to comment at the end of the page.
Aren't you stretching 'loving and serving' so widely that it's almost meaningless?
By allowing worship in some cases, are you not in effect saying that you can start a fresh expression in any way you like?
We would say that 'loving and serving' is about an attitude of mind. 'What is the best way that we can serve this particular group of people?' There is a huge difference between launching out with an assumption that you must start with worship and beginning with a commitment to love people the best way you can.
The experience of being listened to is so close to the experience of being loved as to be indistinguishable.
Sara Savage, Fraser Watts & Ruth Layzell, The Beta Course, the Psychology and Christianity Project, Session 2
Church planters with love in their hearts will have a strong commitment to listen to the people they feel called to serve. Uppermost in their mind will be the question, 'How best can we love and serve you?'
They will not prejudge the answer by assuming that preaching and worship is where to start. After all, Jesus didn't preach to everyone he healed! They will only come to that conclusion, if they reach it at all, having spent time in careful listening and prayer.
Prayerful listening to the people you may be called to serve is the starting point for loving them.