Fresh expressions are called to bring the fragments of society together

Fresh expressions are a way for church to be immersed in different cultural fragments so as to join those fragments up.

As these connections are established, we shall experience today a foretaste of the unity that will exist when Christ returns.

At the end of history all will be made one

FruitThis is imagined in Revelation 21, which pictures the time when humanity is gathered together in a perfect civilisation, 'the new Jerusalem'.

Verse 24 describes 'the kings of the earth' bringing all 'their splendour' into the city, an idea that is repeated in verse 26. 

Choice pickings from each civilisation will be brought together in an eternal pageant of human achievement. Unity and diversity will go hand in hand.

The church is to model God's future

It should point men and women to the hope that lies ahead, and at the same time make that hope something of a reality in the present.

The gospel is not a statement about some remote future; it is the dawn of that future...

Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, SCM, 1977, p77

So church should model the time when cultural fragments will be joined together

This is especially important when today's society seems to be pulling apart.

In Britain, census data shows that society has been gradually dividing on a geographical basis. Though Britain is not as spatially polarised as many countries, young and old, black and white, settled and migrants, and rich and poor people have been moving slowly away from each other.

Divisions have widened over the last 20 years (Danny Dorling and Phil Rees, A nation still dividing: the British census and social polarisation 1971-2001 in Environmental Planning, 35, 2003, pp1298-1309).

Christian communities are to model the day when cultural fragments will be joined together

Church has the wonderful calling to counter these trends

It must connect up splinters of the population. Different expressions of church, which engage with people precisely because they are different, can come together in all sorts of ways – from fun days, to short evening courses, to weekend retreats, to social events, to pilgrimages and holidays.

As fresh expressions join the various fragments of society, believers should seize the opportunities to join these fragments up.

In particular, the church should model a 'mixed economy'

In a mixed economy, inherited and fresh expressions of church value each other and draw strength from one another.

New forms of congregation may be planted, whether as youth mission or any other, but a relationship of interdependence is maintained with the original church. Each gives identity to the other. The youth congregation could not exist without the resourcing of its 'parent', but the founding congregation is no longer the same... a new dimension has entered its life.

Graham Cray, Youth Congregations and the Emerging Church, Grove Books, 2002, p22

Just as the great majority of fresh expressions owe their existence to inherited church (they have been started by people who came to faith in inherited church), so they have much to give back to the whole body of Christ.

One group of church leaders saw fresh expressions as a threat to their churches, and were hesitant about maintaining a missional post. 'A fresh expression will just suck the young life out of our churches.' But when they came to see how a fresh expression could complement and encourage their work with younger people, their attitude changed.

Connecting up should be a high priority for fresh expressions.

It will start to make real now a future in which different parts of society will live in harmony. In so doing, inherited and new forms of church will be able to support and encourage each other.

A group of churches in rural Norfolk grew from six traditional churches to include seven cell churches - the Tas Valley Team Ministry. Key to this growth has been recognising the varying needs of different groups within the area.

These churches are now working out what it means to be connected to their different parts, both village to village and cell to traditional church.

Cells are a help because their members tend to come from different villages, so drawing the communities together. Sally Gaze writes more about htese experiences in Mission-shaped and Rural: Growing churches in the countryside (CHP, 2007).

A different rationale for the mixed economy

Fresh expressions and a 'mixed economy' church suggests another rationale for the mixed economy, based on the Antioch and Jerusalem churches in Acts.

Fresh expressions can contribute to church unity by pushing mission up the church's agenda

Fresh expressions can inspire inherited churches to undertake mission in ways that are appropriate for them - 'You're not the only ones doing mission.'

Mission can then become a force for unity. When the stark contrast between kingdom values and the absence of those values is constantly being faced, other matters fall into second place. What Christians have in common is seen to far outweigh what divides them.

Mission is about the very nature of the church. The church emerged out of Jesus' reconciling work on the cross, and will reach its fulfilment when all things are reconciled at Christ's return. To be involved in mission is to move forward Christ's work of reconciliation by being a reconciling community.

In that situation the disunity, which is easily taken for granted among churches which are not in a missionary situation, becomes literally intolerable. It is felt to contradict the whole nature of the apostolic mission at the church's heart.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God, SCM, 1953, p151

Might local churches collaborate in the task of discipleship?

Might local inherited churches and fresh expressions run joint events - for example, a four-week introduction to the gospels, a weekend retreat on prayer, or a coach to Birmingham for a conference on Christianity and Islam?

A taste of God's reconciled future in the here and now

Perhaps on the coach Jane tells Darren about her church on Sunday morning. Darren comments,

I go to a fresh expression on Thursday evening, but my shifts are changing and I won't be able to go any more. Do you think it would be all right if I tried your church?

Might fresh expressions find discipleship easier if local churches worked together, providing a taste of God's reconciled future in the here and now?