Graham Cray on creativity in fresh expressions of church

Thursday, 30 May, 2013

Graham Cray discusses creativity in fresh expressions of church. Being creative, using God's gifts, gathering creatively and creative worship and learning.

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Graham Cray: What convinces me that fresh expressions is, in part at least, a movement of the Holy Spirit, is the extraordinary flourishing of creativity that we've seen in it. People, quite traditional Christians, are imagining church in ways they could never have imagined it before. It's as though the Holy Spirit has freed our imaginations and if the purpose is that we want culturally appropriate deeply authentic Christian communities to engage with those that the Church is not engaging with at all, I think that's an occasion where the Holy Spirit blesses creativity. If you are a leader, if you are involved in the birthing of a fresh expression then don't work out the blueprint and recruit people for it, gather round you those who have at least a part interest in being part of this and create a setting in which in the presence of God, their dreams and visions, their ideas, their off-the-wall thinking, their bringing the gifts they've got can surface. Take time to do it, it's part of the listening that leads into the founding, but the first thing you've got to know is that no really creative work of God happens because one person got the bright idea and recruited a team. Something much richer will come if you release the imagination - free people to think in a way they've not [thought] before, assure them that it really is allowed, that there's great diversity in Christ's church and let the Holy Spirit surprise you with the ideas that other people surface.

I think one of the really important and most common sense pieces of advice is use the gifts you've got, not the gifts you haven't. Once you realise that the Holy Spirit can use almost any creative gift as the basis for forming relationships and forming community - and please remember the heart of a fresh expression is a community of people beginning to journey towards Jesus rather than the formal structure of church or something like that - the moment you realise, as in stories that we've published, that felt-making can gather a community, baking bread can gather a community, having skills in outdoor sports can gather a community, skateboarding can gather a community, being an artist who loves to paint alongside other artists can gather a community. It's worth doing a little audit: if we forget about church for a few moments and we ask the question 'what do we love doing, what are the skills, what are the pursuits that we've got here', I'd be very surprised if God did not intend some of those to be used as the catalyst for gathering people around you and ultimately gathering people around Jesus.

I think the area that we need our best creativity for is often hospitality. If through various networks of interest people are going to gather, first principle of church growth: always do it with food. But ask the Spirit of God to give you real imagination and perhaps an attention to detail about hospitality. What would surprise people? What would make them feel particularly welcome? What would make them think 'I never imagined church might do that'? It might be that you do something really wacky, it might be that you get things laid out very nicely or the food is nicer than people might have expected, you've got to be sensible about a budget. But pray for special creativity about hospitality and welcome. And then as people gather round you, connect the activities of the fresh expression to their real life circumstances and joys and sorrows as much as possible. I love the way that Divine Divas in Tadcaster for instance has gathered round good ways that women gather and like to talk and suddenly thought we haven't got to be very 'religious' we can just gather people like this and people know that we're Christians. Or they pick up a TV programme like Loose Women and turn it into a way of discussing the faith. If to be a Christian is about the reality of God's love and presence in everyday life once you've come to know him or to know him again, then connect the creativity to the everyday questions that people have, the everyday lives they lead and the things that give them joy or give them sorrow.

When you get to the stage that a community is gathering, people are beginning to meet regularly, you are openly talking about discipleship, please don't switch off your creativity. Don't work wonderfully creatively so that people gather and have an interest and say now you are here, give them a five point sermon or present them a package. People these days need to explore to find out what they believe is true. So enable them to explore. Often people know little about the faith because they don't know where to look, they don't know where to find out, they don't know what websites, they don't know bits of church history or saints, so whether it's prayer stations, whether it's discussion-starters, whether it's a hunt for information on Wiki[pedia] or something like that, create an environment where people are learning and making discoveries together and checking out whether the 'starters for one' you've given them are true. If you start people off as a learning community, getting excited and wanting to find out more and more for themselves, you'll create in them an appetite that will continue. I think the other vital thing to do is when people are engaged in worship, try and involve all the senses. I mean there's books called multi-sensory prayer and things like that but think of all the different ways people learn, the different personalities that there are there. How many people will learn best through seeing? How many through hearing? How many through touch and enquiry? How many need to be still rather than have loads and loads of words? Creatively construct something where as many dimensions of as many different people can begin to engage with the Christian faith as you can possibly imagine. And then add a few!


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