Networking for mission

Monday, 17 September, 2012

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

A major motivation for establishing fresh expressions of church has always been to engage with a society which increasingly forms community via networks as opposed to neighbourhoods. This was a major emphasis in the Mission-shaped Church report and is just as important today.

But the intention was never to replace neighbourhood-based mission with a network approach. The intention was a mixed economy where, at its best, the two approaches formed one joined-up strategy; linked to one another, valuing one another and each reaching people whom the other could not.

Not everyone has grasped or believed this, and there has also been a regrettable neighbourhood versus network debate which has often idealised one or other part of the mixed economy over and against the other. This is unfortunate as it inevitably results in parts of the mission field being ignored, sometimes on the basis of ideological blindness.

Networks also divide and exclude, they do not just connect and join up. Most networks involve place, often a larger place than a parish or immediate neighbourhood. They involve meeting up in a place or they are hardly networks at all - however much there may be a digital component. Neighbourhoods, on the other hand, can be prisons for the poor, safe havens for the rich, or simply lack any sense of cohesion. Local mission needs to be discerned on the basis of local complex reality, often across wider areas than that of the most local.

The new Church of England and Methodist report Fresh Expressions in the Mission of the Church (pp167-172) recognizes all of this and offers the term 'locality' to describe the combined network and neighbourhood reality of society. Mission in, and to, a locality will involve network and neighbourhood approaches. It will involve inherited and more innovative forms of church, all as part of a common mission.

This combines well with Mike Moynagh's challenge for fresh expressions of church to be both 'focused and connected'. In his recently-published book Church for Every Context (pp171-173), he looks at the challenge for fresh expressions to be focused about their primary mission field - among those not reached by the church - as already established locally but understanding themselves to be part of a greater whole. A fragmented church will never re-evangelise this nation, nor will a church which cannot engage with the sheer diversity of contemporary culture.

Networks may form only one part of what is needed but networking is essential for connectedness. Everyone who is serious about mission to this nation needs to be a networker of one sort or another. At a national level, the Fresh Expressions team tries to serve the whole movement by sharing stories and helping local pioneers to recognize that they are part of something national - and even international.

+Graham Cray


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
We use spam protection. View privacy policy.