Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fresh Expressions of, um......

The big thing in mission in the CofE at the moment is 'Fresh Expressions of church', and there is a temptation to put anything vaguely innovative down as a 'fresh expression'. I've resisted registering stuff we're doing at St. James' as fresh expressions, because none of them are new churches, or new Christian communities, they are just new or experimental options within an existing pattern of worship and church life.

For example, we have a Cafe Service, which each month attracts 30-45 adults and 20-25 kids, roughly half of which are folk who don't come to anything else, but many of whom come regularly to the cafe service. At the moment, for them it's just a relaxed, high-caffeine church service, it's not the expression of their faith through worship, mission, community and discipleship that marks a true church, so it's not a 'fresh expression of church'. If you want churchy jargon, which I don't really, it's more like a 'seeker-friendly service'.

Or, 'Start the Week', our unimaginitively named prayer time at 8.45am at the local church school. It's basiclaly all-age morning prayer, lasting 10 minutes, with an interactive prayer time and focusing on prayer for the school community. There's a regular turnout of 12-18, of all ages, some of whom go to other churches and some of whom, as far as we know, only pray with other people at 'Start the Week'. There is, I guess, the possibility that it will become a regular time of group prayer for people who aren't members of churches. But again, if that's 'all' it is, it's not church.

To use a framework developed by George Lings, these things are probably smaller arches in what needs to be a bigger bridge (see his 'Encounters on the Edge' no 33 on cafe church). On their own they enable part of the journey, but there's the need for other 'arches' of discipleship, community and mission to enable people to fully live and express the Christian life.

So I suspect that, despite roughly a third of the parishes of the CofE saying they've started a 'fresh expression of church', most of the things with this label are fresh expressions of worship or prayer within the life of the church, rather than a brand new community of disciples emerging with its own form of church life.

And for a brilliant example of what that could look like, go here, to an innovative new church in Oxfordshire. As we're thinking in Yeovil of what a creative Christian presence could look like on new housing estates, we need to do a whole lot more than just turn up and put on a worship service for people to attend. That's not mission. The trouble is, it's quite close to what a lot of our established churches are already doing......


  1. Totally agree. We have started a new Sunday afternoon congregation but it isn't a fresh expression really, just an old expression at a more convenient time.

    To make a true fresh expression you need to meet new people, engage with them, share the gospel with them and ask them how they would like to express their response.

    The only thing we are doing that is close is a Film Club (for those who engage with life through movies) but it remains a pre-expression for the moment.

  2. I remember Ann Morisy arguing that we need to distinguish between fresh expressions of worship (e.g. alternative worship) and fresh expressions of church.

    It's hard to know how important it is to insist on terminology. The danger is that people do f.e's that aren't really f.e's of church, but just variations on the worship programme, and then think 'fresh expressions, yes we've done that'. That would be tragic, but I get the sense that it's already happening. The terminology has escaped and is roaming free, dropping in for a cuppa with anyone who's just started using an OHP.