The rise and rise of mission shaped ministry

Wednesday, 7 October, 2015

It's the course that keeps on giving. In the past eight years, Fresh Expressions' mission shaped ministry has been presented over 115 times across the UK with more than 3,600 people taking part - but this autumn sees its launch in a variety of formats. As a result, interest in the UK - and internationally - continues to grow.

Launched in 2007, msm's well-established 'Classic' format is run ecumenically and typically runs over the course of a year on three Saturdays, six weekday evenings and a residential weekend. The aim of the part-time course is to provide a learning journey, as part of a supportive community, for people to be equipped for a lifetime of good practice and learning in growing fresh expressions of church.

This autumn there are 'Classic' courses underway for Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, Cumbria and Lancashire, Gloucestershire, Kent and South East, Lincolnshire, North and West Yorkshire, Somerset, Thames Valley, Wiltshire and Hull. Flying the flag for new course centres are Bristol, Oxford and Devizes.


This year also sees the growth of flexible delivery of msm. Jonathan Dowman is one of three Pioneer Development Workers in the Diocese of Leicester. He has previously run two Classic courses in Birmingham and is currently planning another one in Leicester for January 2016 but, in the meantime, he will be working to help others tackle 'flexi msm'. He said,

It's a very exciting time. We are on the cusp of starting three flexible courses across the diocese. The flexi format is perfect when a church – or group of churches – has more than six people who want to explore msm. Instead of them 'coming to us' for that, we will go to them and facilitate some of the key units together. That could be in someone's living room, a pub, or an allotment – anywhere that's right for them in their context. It's not about us 'teaching' them; instead it's down to us, working with the churches, as to how it shapes up and the hope is that we will put it into practice as we go.

Other areas running msm flexi 'pilots' this autumn are South Wales (Monmouth diocese), Penzance and an ecumenical group in Ebbsfleet, Kent, led by Baptist Minister Penny Marsh. Manchester will see at least three flexi groups up and running from the beginning of next year.


September 2015 saw another first for msm with the launch of the online course, the first of its kind in the UK partnership with The Pioneer Collective. Funded by a grant from the Eastern Baptist Association, The Collective is delivering the course which includes many of the aspects of a Classic msm but with the added benefit of being accessible wherever and whenever is suitable.

The opening session welcomed 59 participants in 14 groups, 11 of which were in the UK – together with those in Hungary, France and the US. The groups reflect a strong denominational mix, including Independent, Methodist, Baptist, Church in Wales, Congregational and Church of England.

The modules are interactive and delivered live in a 'virtual meeting room', but recordings of the sessions and course notes are accessible to participants at any time. There is also a supporting Facebook group for people to ask each other questions and share their ideas and experiences. It uses the same material found in the Classic delivery of the course and is taught live by experienced msm teachers. The small groups of up to five then interact with the live sessions together.

Simon Goddard, who leads the course, is Regional Minister for the Eastern Baptist Association and national coordinator for the Baptist Pioneer Collective. He says,

It's been great to see the course now available to groups from churches who are located some distance from the nearest 'Classic' course. We wondered whether there would be the same sort of camaraderie over the internet, but by the comments in the chat box and on the Facebook page, we needn't have worried!

Ali Dorey, Director of Training for Fresh Expressions, says,

I have been involved in running mission shaped ministry for a number of years and am now very proud to be more directly involved with msm at a time of growth for the new flexi and online versions. It is wonderful that people who might never engage with a Classic msm, run in a set location at prescribed times, now have the opportunity to engage in flexi msm coaching that happens in their location at times that work for them and their emerging fresh expression. It also allows them to look at the topics that are most applicable to their current situation as they engage in the mission of God.

Methodist Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network

Support for the continued rollout of msm across the country has been strengthened through the partnership of the Methodist Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network (DMLN). Bristol and West Midlands DMLN is involved with Bristol and Gloucester courses; while Yorkshire Plus DMLN has achieved its target of having three msm courses through its partnering with Hull, Knaresborough and the ongoing Sheffield msm.

Rachel McCallam, Learning & Development Coordinator (Church & Community Development) for Yorkshire Plus DMLN, is involved in Sheffield while Fiona Fidgin, Learning & Development Officer (Church & Community Development) is on the Hull msm course and will also deliver one of the modules at the Knaresborough msm.

Rachel says,

For us, being involved in the three courses across such different districts gives us a bit of a strategic overview. There are very diverse contexts represented in these course areas and that's great when helping people to contextualise and think about what evangelism looks like in their situation.

The essence of mission shaped ministry, for me, is helping people to look beyond their own front yard - and that 'church on a Sunday morning' obsession - and see that they're part of a much bigger map.

A number of other DMLN regions are also involved in teaching this year's courses:

  • East Central Region (Tim Wooley teaching on the Lincoln course);
  • North West and Mann (Brec Seaton and Edel McClean – Cumbria and Lancs);
  • East of England (Richard Armiger - Cambridge & Suffolk).

Multiplying leaders

The course has inspired many participants to develop their own leadership skills and become msm leaders elsewhere. It has also helped many people to start effective fresh expressions and sometimes pursue further training – as well as kickstart a wide variety of missional initiatives, including Messy Church, working in areas of new housing developments, and Café Church.

Katharine Crowsley, of Cook@chapel at Hanslope Methodist Church in the Milton Keynes Methodist Circuit, attended a Fresh Expressions vision day, saw the Somewhere Else 'Bread Church' video and then started her fresh expression for young people as a result. Cook@chapel meets every Friday evening during term time to learn to cook, share a meal, develop faith and build a community.

Katharine went on to attend an msm course in the East Midlands and has more recently completed pioneer training with CMS. Katharine joined the msm East Midlands team, taught a number of msm units and is now heading up the new Oxford course.


The msm phenomenon has reached many places across the world with more than 1,000 people taking part in over 40 courses. Locations have included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, South Africa and Barbados. In another first, a translated version of the course is now being used in Germany.

The International Fresh Expressions Conference 2016 will take place from 16-18 February in Cape Town, South Africa. Hosted by Fresh Expressions Southern Africa, the conference takes 'Future Church - discerning the future church together' as its theme. To find out more, visit the Fresh Expressions South Africa website.


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