What are FEASTs?
Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Teams catalyse the start and development of fresh expressions of church across a geographical area. They play a vital role in bringing about a genuine mixed economy church.
FEASTs focus on a geographical area that makes local sense, such as a city or county. Within that area:
- they initiate and sustain fresh expressions;
- they support pioneers;
- they provide training;
- they engage with existing church structures;
- they encourage prayer.
From the DAWN (Disciple A Whole Nation) approach to church planting, FEASTs have learnt that being strategic in small geographical areas can often be more effective than a national approach.
There is a lot to be said for a local approach, like what is suggested and being attempted here. (And I should add that I was a part of the DAWN team in the past.) A local strategy, leading to a local expression of church is far more likely to be contextually relevant, will allow its people to interact more often (less carbon footprint and easier on the wallet) and will do a better job in representing the unique redemptive giftings of that particular city/town/area that God is doing something fresh in. What I think is interesting is to see how the 'local' church movement parallels the current food movement which, since the '80s, has gone from 'gourmet' to 'organic' to 'region specific' to 'slow' and now to 'local' - leading to new terms such as 'locavore' - a person that consumes food from their own sources or at least within a certain (100 mile/50 mile) geographical radius. Perhaps God is calling out the spiritual equivalents of 'locavores'?
Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi)
The guidelines that follow are based on the experience of FEASTs that have emerged so far.
The initial stages of a FEAST
These will normally involve the following:
An initial catalyst
This may be an individual, a local church, a request from an ecumenical group or from a group within a denomination, or a mission shaped ministry course. Examples of conveners include district or diocesan evangelism/mission enablers, fresh expressions enablers, bishops and other staff.
Gathering the team
Perhaps following a conversation with two or three people, an ecumenical team will form, including permission givers (usually a senior church leader), champions (enthusiasts who generate support for fresh expressions) and individuals who are already bringing a fresh expression to birth.
Ideally, members of FEASTs should be:
- passionate about fresh expressions of church;
- senior enough to be listened to;
- good networkers and coalition builders and well connected;
- in tune with the cultures of the dioceses, districts, synods and streams;
- determined, patient, resilient and persistent;
- supportive of practitioners;
- kingdom-orientated and ecumenically-minded.
Articulating the vision
A clear vision for fresh expressions will help communicate a FEAST's purpose to others. You might express this vision in kingdom terms - eg: 'Through fresh expressions of church, over the next 25 years we aim to multiply disciples who will serve the kingdom of God in (specify the area).' Having a long timescale speaks of realism, patience and permanence.
Deciding on the geography
A FEAST might cover a city, county or local area defined by a common history. Current examples include Devon, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, Manchester and the North East. Ideally the area will have some correspondence to church or local government structures, but more important is that it makes sense to the 'locals'.
Agreeing the principles
This is akin to agreeing values at the outset of a fresh expression. Values might include openness and flexibility, focusing on open doors, putting a priority on discipleship-making and serving the kingdom, or reproducing from the small.
You might seek prayer support from a variety of sources, such as a specially recruited prayer team, or plugging into existing prayer networks or religious communities. Many districts, dioceses, synods and other denominational bodies have prayer diaries or web pages. Some key themes for prayer in the initial stages include:
- learning about the context and the approaches therefore required - akin to listening for mission as a fresh expression develops;
- identifying and seizing God-given opportunities to forward the vision, especially building on and developing key relationships and alliances;
- inspiration in expressing the vision and opportunities for communicating it;
- team formation, especially identifying and 'recruiting' the right people;
- the provision of resources;
- identifying leaders in mission;
- multiplying leaders of fresh expressions, including training, mentoring, etc.
- for God to empower, encourage and protect all concerned.
This involves discerning priorities for developing the FEAST's strategy, setting objectives against a timescale and ensuring the leadership is able to work towards these objectives. We list some of the components of a strategy, recognising that they don't necessarily occur in a neat order.
Continued sharing of the vision
Through key conversations, presentations at existing gatherings, vision days, regional days, road shows, special events and use of the Christian media. How can you reach different constituencies? Eg: briefings for senior staff; stories in district/diocesan/synod newspapers; regular items on Synod agendas; inclusion on websites/in prayer diaries; a focus of work for a fresh expressions enabler.
Research and mapping
Doing this together will encourage collaborative working in the team and will help members arrive at a vision jointly. Mapping the location of churches (with some indication of their strengths) in relation to the population can be a useful visual aid for planning.
The following may be useful:
- creating a directory of current churches of all denominations and streams, including contact details;
- creating a directory of recent fresh expressions and their leaders;
- researching the strength of local churches to create a baseline to monitor changes over the lifetime of the strategy, to see what proportion of the population are meaningfully engaged with church, which can be a motivator for change and to identify areas with a relatively strong Christian presence and where gaps exist, to strategically plan pioneer activity.
Before starting any research, ask how the results will make a difference to your approach. Time can easily be wasted gathering fascinating information that makes little difference in practice!
Training provision and support
Through courses (such as Fresh Expressions' mission shaped ministry, ReSource, Crucible and the Together in Mission MA in missional leadership, coaching (or missional accompaniment) and learning networks. A handy tip: make sure training courses lead to new initiatives rather than being run for their own sake.
The intentional multiplication
Of key roles (eg. coaches and fresh expressions enablers) pioneer leaders, training, resources, new communities and possibly particular models (after contextual research). Why not focus resources on people and projects with the strongest likelihood of multiplying?
Developing and growing prayer support
It might be good to review periodically your prayer support. Is a new approach required? Might a new constituency be engaged in prayer? Might you communicate prayer needs in a different way?
Engaging with existing structures
Through permission givers, training providers, policy makers, pioneers and others. The aim is to move church structures from 'permission to blessing to paradigm shift'. Vision casting, telling stories, e-newsletters, chatting to and supporting key individuals, and reporting to strategic denominational committees can all help you proceed with grace through the doors God opens.
Youth and young people
How will you ensure this important constituency is not neglected? Might you develop a focused track of activity or have an item about this regularly on your agenda? A good starting point would be a conversation between the team and those responsible for youthwork in the denominations, together with Christian youth agencies in the area.
Resourcing the strategy
This is likely to include the following:
Identifying new leaders
Nationally, thousands of new leaders will be needed to bring about a transformation in the nation's spiritual life. Most will be lay because clergy resources are increasingly scarce. The following will help future leaders to emerge:
- prayer for God to raise up pioneers.
- creating a helpful climate that encourages pioneers into mission.
- keeping the vision visible; reminding people of the possibility that they might be called to this kind of mission.
- working with others such as Diocesan Directors of Ordinands, Network leaders and District staff.
- encouraging 'resource churches' to provide new leaders. These are churches where growth and multiplication are evident. They are a potential major resource, helping to provide new leaders, training, coaching, prayer and other forms of support. Working with them follows the principle of planting from life.
To maximise this key resource. In particular, pioneers can be supported in the vital task of calling and training others, which will lead to multiplication. Important elements of pioneer support will include:
- gatherings/learning networks;
- good practice on finance;
- attending conferences (eg: Break out, Mission21);
- appropriate use of Bishops' Mission Orders;
- connecting to resources;
- communicating and networking.
Finance and administration
So far, FEASTs have had financial support from denominations involved on an event-by-event basis. Admin. support has come from within the group. Some mission shaped ministry fees have been found by denominations, while in one area admin support is provided by the Churches Together facilitator. Might support for some FEASTs be available from a District Advance Fund and diocesan mission funds?
The national team
Stephen Lindridge, the full-time Methodist Fresh Expressions missioner, supports FEASTs around the UK and is available for consultation, help and advice. Stephen chaired the FEAST in the North East till recently and was responsible for creating the acronym.
Stories so far include: