Growing together

Monday, 21 March, 2011

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

Archbishop Rowan Williams' description of church as:

what happens when people encounter the risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in their encounter with each other

reminds us that true church is an event, an ongoing relationship with Jesus. But it is also a corporate event and a whole life event.

If fresh expressions of church are going to equip new Christians for whole-life discipleship then they have to be more than a Sunday or weekday event. Going to a gathering once per week or month may be the starting point but it cannot be the destination. The essence of Church is that it is a community. The chief Biblical metaphors are corporate: the body of Christ, the family or household of God, the people of God, and so on. The term 'one another' appears more than 50 times, primarily in Paul's letters and John's gospel or letters. So how can the participants in a fresh expression grow together (as a community) so that they can grow personally and together as Christian disciples?

It helps to set out to create community from the beginning, rather than decide you need it at a later stage. If the fresh expression has developed from listening to serving to forming community, then you have a community before you have a worship event. Equally, an effective plant among people who already have good relationships, perhaps through a key doorkeeper or 'person of peace', gives you a community to work with, although not all of its pre Christian communal behaviour may be helpful!

Meals together and other social events can help community form, and simultaneously draw new or fringe people in. Christians don't have to be religious every time they meet. Christianity is a shared life in Christ. Sometimes it is good just to share about things that you enjoy, but don't fight over the sport! Mutual encouragement for discipleship happens best among friends. Practical service together for the local community can have the same effect.

And when you gather to worship bring your daily lives into the prayer and praise. Try Mark Green's TTT - 'this time tomorrow' - where each week someone shares what the challenges of being a Christian at work are, followed by prayer.

Because once a week or once a month is often not enough, there are all sorts of patterns of smaller meetings, which could help. As ever, it's the context that will shape the planning. You could have regular cells. You could have prayer triplets. A messy church or other all-age approach can develop materials for 'church in the home'. Occasional courses – on anything from parenting to self-worth – give people time together. As long as the content is relevant it really doesn't matter what the topic is. It all creates an opportunity to build relationships and have some more 'one another' opportunities. The more you create the opportunity for people to meet and encourage one another in the faith, the more chance you have to aid growth in discipleship.

Some fresh expressions are developing a locally appropriate rule or rhythm of life, supported by daily texts or emails. All the new media allow us to support one another when our community is dispersed, and keep us in touch until the next time we gather.

I will add just one health warning. We are seeking to grow warm communities, which are easy to join. Don't let the depth of existing relationships act as a wall which keeps new people on the outside. We are to grow together as we grow in numbers.



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