Start as you mean to go on

Monday, 20 September, 2010

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

At the heart of the fresh expressions movement lies the question 'who will never be reached if our church only does what we do now?' Fresh expressions of church are one part of the UK churches' desire to engage with the majority – those who have never been involved in church, or who lost contact long ago. We are seeking to reach the people who are unlikely to come to our present services.

A fresh expression of church is not designed as a halfway house or a stepping stone to attendance at an existing service. These may be good and right things to do but we should not confuse them with fresh expressions of church. Fresh expressions are new congregations, or church plants. Of course plans can change. There are projects which were set up for one purpose - such as a bridge to existing church - which later morphed into a fresh expression (people have a habit of getting on to one end of a bridge and refusing to cross!). But fresh expressions work better if the clear intention, at the outset, is to plant a new congregation.

It is important to start any mission initiative as you mean to go on, because your methodology will depend on your intentions. Bridge projects tend to be events set up to deepen relationships with people already in touch with a particular church's ministry, perhaps through toddler work or a senior citizens lunch. Experience may eventually show that your event needs to develop into a regular congregation and become church for its members, but It is more likely that the aim is to draw as many as possible into Sunday worship.

A fresh expression of church starts with a desire to reach those with whom the local church has no significant contact as yet. It normally involves a process of listening, serving and relationship building before any public event of act of worship can be established. It has to be done this way round because otherwise you have no idea who your event would be for, because you don't know to whom you are called. Designing an event like that is designing blindfolded. But following the listening process, it is likely that you not only know who it is for, but you know them personally. There is also a significant difference between staging a regular event for people and forming community with them. Church is community around Christ not just an event staged by Christians for those who might be interested. If there is to be community and discipleship, prayer and worship, word and sacrament and outreach to others, these all need all to be in the founding DNA of the fresh expression, even if they unfold over a period of time. It is always best to start as you mean to go on.



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