Starting with nothing?

Monday, 16 April, 2012

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

There are now several thousand fresh expressions of church across the UK. They have been established for a wide variety of people in an equally wide variety of contexts. The great majority of them were started by ordinary local Christians, not by a full time, salaried pioneer. So there are very few situations where a fresh expression is impossible, and very many where it would be appropriate to start one.

A fresh expression need not be elaborate and it need not require lots of resources. It needs some people and eventually a place to gather. It will cost some money, but need not require a lot. Where resources are scarce it might involve a change of priorities. Perhaps the hardest part might be to decide what to stop doing so that something new can begin. Some patterns of church activity continue long after they have ceased to achieve what they were established to do - the people and money involved could be set free for something new. Or it might involve a decision not to buy the new hymn books or crockery, but to invest the money on a new piece of mission instead. Where a group of small churches are linked together under one minister there is the possibility of a joint initiative – perhaps each church releasing one person to create a new team. Sometimes churches have to choose between carrying on as they have in the past, or investing in a different future. For an elderly congregation it might involve asking how they could invest more in their grandchildren's generation, than in their own.

A fresh expression of church can grow naturally out of existing work or existing relationships. Is there a piece of work, on a Saturday or midweek, which could be developed into a worshipping congregation? Perhaps there is a lunch for the elderly, a toddlers group, or a school event - a breakfast or lunchtime or after school club? Sometimes pieces of work in the community, which the church set up as an act of Christian service, can also become the basis of a regular worshipping community. Sometimes events, which were established as a bridge to church, need to become church themselves, because people come to the event but never cross the bridge!

Any church, or group of churches, which wants to take this seriously should begin with a season of prayer. You are seeking the guidance of the missionary Holy Spirit, who is already at work among people who have no connection to a church. As you pray, and a fuel for your prayer, ask yourselves the key question – who will never encounter the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, if we only do what we do now? Then ask where you, as a congregation, are deployed in your every day lives? Who do you know through people's work, hobbies and community involvement? A fresh expression may develop through the skills and interests people have in common with others outside the church, because the one essential for starting a fresh expression is a community of people, brought together by a common concern, exploring what it means to be disciples of Jesus.

As you pray you may hear God's challenge to befriend and serve people with whom you have no real contact. Sometimes establishing a fresh expression takes longer, because it involves making new relationships, by going to people who are not connected to a church, rather than expecting them to come to us, finding ways to serve them, and creating the possibility of forming a community of spiritual explorers with them It may involve reconnecting to your community, or it may involve a new imaginative way of building on the connections you already have. But most churches, or groups of churches, can establish a fresh expression, even when they think they are starting with nothing.

+Graham Cray


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