Making it up as we go along!
This is how many practitioners describe the process of starting and growing a fresh expression of church. Doing what is appropriate in their context means that they cannot download what others have done and hope it will automatically work. No how-to-do-it blueprint for founding a fresh expression exists. Every context is different. Plans are often blown off course by changes in circumstances and unexpected opportunities. The Spirit frequently leads in surprising ways. But this does not mean that midwives of church cannot learn from the experiences of others. In this section, we bring together some of the wisdom gleaned from fresh expressions over a number of years.
We have organised the material into six themes, six threads if you like, each addressing a different question. These threads are a shorthand way of tapping into the experiences of many who have gone before. In practice, these threads overlap and get jumbled up together. Not every item in each thread is relevant to all situations. But within each thread, there may be wisdom that you will find helpful, whether you are involved in a large fresh expression or a tiny one.
Keeping in mind that the Spirit should be the starting point of all our actions, we suggest you begin with:
A mission heart
Are you really committed to serving people outside church?
A mission team (or 'missional community')
You need to find at least one other person to work with.
These are 'emotional rudders' that guide how the missional community operates and keep members on the same page.
A mission focus
You can't serve everyone, so who are you going to focus on?
What sort of fresh expression should we aim for? The Spirit will answer that question as you spend time in listening. 'The experience of being listened to is so close to the experience of being loved as to be indistinguishable' (Sara Savage).
We suggest that the missional community listens in four directions:
To God directly in prayer and Bible study
Times of prayer and Bible study may help to focus what God is saying as you listen to the people described below.
To the people you are called to serve.
Listening can involve:
- experimentation (trying something and seeing what you learn);
- participation (joining in with what people in your mission context are doing);
- conversation (with some of those you are hoping to serve);
- observation (Where do people gather? What do they do? What do they value?);
- investigation (researching particular issues in some depth);
- imagination (asking 'what-would-happen-if...' questions).
To those you are accountable to
These could include leaders of the church(es) on whose behalf you are acting, and Christian friends and others who are praying for you.
To the wider church
Continually testing your ideas
On people whose backing and help you need will help them to feel involved. Patiently exploring the synergies between your evolving vision and others' objectives may lead to surprising and fertile forms of collaboration.
You may want to think about support from
- prayer partners;
- the people you are called to serve;
- the holders of purse strings (do you know how to write a simple business plan if you need to?);
- the public - what will you have to do about health and safety and child protection, for example, to enjoy 'the goodwill of all the people' (Acts 2.47)?;
- partnering with secular organisations and/or other churches.
Permission-givers within the church
If yours is a church-based venture, those within the church may well ask:
- how will the initiative be governed?
- how will leaders be appointed and for how long?
- what will be the financial expectations?
- how will communion (and baptisms) be celebrated?
- how will progress be reviewed?
- how will the venture be safeguarded if leaders change? (You may want to ask how it will be safeguarded if leaders elsewhere change?)
The following are important (and can be done informally), even if there are just two of you starting on a small scale:
Asking in the early days, 'What do we have to do now to give our venture the potential to become church?' and later, 'Where next is the Spirit leading us?'
What is God teaching us through the journey so far?
Using regular 'milestone reviews'
For the looking forward and looking back processes.
Using simple forms of evaluation
To discern where and how the Spirit has been at work.
The challenge here is:
To understand sustainability
In ways that do not pre-judge what the venture will become. We should not assume that a sustainable fresh expression will look like inherited church.
To sustain the founders of fresh expressions
They need adequate spiritual and practical support.
To birth a venture on a scale that fits the context
You may want to avoid financial commitments that can't be sustained in the long term. Simple church, well connected to the wider church, may be an answer in many cases.
To take seriously the nurture of second generation leaders
Normally they should take over as quickly as possible. As you start, might you shape your venture around the nature and availability of the leaders who might take it forward?
To manage other transitions by going back to your core values
('What are we seeking to do and why?') Agreeing principles that will guide how these values are expressed and giving members maximum freedom to be creative within this framework.
To keep the fresh expression fresh
By regularly reviewing what you are doing, encouraging members to come up with ideas and use their gifts, and constantly introducing - as appropriate - small changes.
Helping the core team (the 'missional community') become not just a community, but a Godly one will set a healthy tone for the fresh expression as a whole. It will involve attending to the following processes:
Forming the missional community, which includes helping members get to know each other better - perhaps using a Myers-Briggs test, for example, and ice-breakers that encourage members to start sharing their lives.
Norming entails negotiating and nurturing communal, task and spiritual norms that will govern the missional community's behaviour and how members relate to each other. It is vital that members cultivate their inner hearts.
Storming is about managing conflict constructively and should be a normal part of a missional community's life. Agreed practices for handling conflict may help (including periods of prayerful silence). The leader must articulate divergent views so that everyone feels heard. Returning to the inner heart to practice forgiveness and make apology will assist teams to become grace-full.
Performing - getting the task done - requires that the missional community pays careful attention to its training needs (eg. mission shaped ministry), to other forms of ongoing support and in particular to the spiritual health of its leader.
Adjourning happens if the team disbands after a time. Sharing what the community has learnt with the wider church may help to turn what can be quite a painful experience into something positive.