Becoming a network of networks

Monday, 16 February, 2015

A body of many parts

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its parts form one body, so it is with Christ... Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Taking Fresh Expressions forward Download

Taking Fresh Expressions forward
Find out about our current five areas of focus and our key new projects going forward.

You can view a video summary of this article below.

I have always marvelled at the multiple expressions of Church to be found within the body of Christ, and it was one of the things I loved most about leading and pastoring a local church. As the body of Christ grew and multiplied into a variety of congregations, I would often find myself making four changes of clothing on a Sunday to adapt to the particular style and tradition of each worshipping community! Of course, there came a point - after we had planted seven very different fresh expressions of church - when I needed to surrender to the fact that the vicar alone couldn’t possibly adapt to the culture of each and every one. My role then was to keep a diverse church connected, where the different communities could learn from each other, celebrate their stories together and be mutually supportive.

An organisation of many partners

Over the past nine months, becoming team leader of Fresh Expressions has meant embracing that challenge all over again, but on a vast scale. The landscape that has evolved over the decade since this initiative started is huge, with many different faces (denominations, streams, agencies, colleges and local communities), often within strikingly different cultures, encompassing several layers of experience and understanding, and each with a language and vocabulary of their very own.

On one level, none of this has changed our main purpose as an organisation:

Fresh Expressions seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church.

On another level however, everything has changed, and the organisation that once existed as a single sponsored initiative is now in the position of supporting and championing a movement of many parts and networks.

As a result, the emphasis of our role has shifted too. Whilst still being committed to 'renewing vision, gathering news, supporting growth and developing training', the task of communicating and convincing has now been overtaken by the challenge of connecting. As more have joined the partnership, the movement as a whole can increasingly offer multiple ways of renewing vision, gathering news, supporting growth and developing training, and we at Fresh Expressions want to celebrate and facilitate that in a new season.

A network of networks?

In On the verge, Alan Hirsch talks about eight 'movement rules' and highlights the 'network rule' in particular. He writes:

Of all the movement rules, the network rule is the one most often overlooked. When we look at a movement, we're often enamoured by the mass of its size and intrigued by the smallness of its parts, but we miss that what is actually holding it together is an infrastructure of networks.

Of course, we can put ourselves on dangerous ground when we try to put the phrase 'infrastructure of networks' alongside the word 'movement', and Hirsch himself talks about the difficulties in enabling an organic 'all channel network' to thrive. At the same time, however, movements are partly catalysed by the quality of communication and connection between their many parts, and Fresh Expressions has been privileged to play an increasing role in enabling that, to support - if you like - the emergence of a 'network of networks'.

A fresh path for Fresh Expressions

How then, might we draw a picture of Fresh Expressions to describe our future role? Returning to the body image, I think increasingly we would want to see our partnership as the skeleton on which an 'infrastructure of networks' can thrive and multiply, each made up of many parts, but joined together in a common vision. To that, we are now adding the joints and muscle of five major areas of focus:

  • inspiring vision;
  • networking strategically;
  • connecting geographically;
  • supporting practitioners;
  • resourcing learning.

We are then adding the flesh of several major projects, all designed to connect the movement's many parts through the DNA of promoting best practice, providing effective support and creating genuine partnerships wherever we can. We invite you to read about these in the attached document and to 'watch this space' as we develop the vision of becoming a network of networks.

Above all, though, we invite you to continue with us on this wonderfully complex journey of which 'each one of you is a part'.

Taking Fresh Expressions forward

Duration: 5:24   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


[Caption: Our mission is to champion and resource new ways of being church

  • Best practice
  • Effective support
  • Genuine partnership

We have five areas of strategic focus]

Inspiring vision

Claire Cooke, Pioneer Ordinand: So I'm new to pioneering and sometimes it feels like such a blank canvas that what would be really helpful would be if there were some other projects, perhaps that are... seem to be doing really well, that I could go and visit, to have a look at what they're doing, maybe to ask some questions, to get some feedback on things that I'm trying to explore, successes and failures that they've had - and just generally to learn from people who've got more experience in this than I have.

[Caption: Pioneer centres - centres of good practice offering hospitality, advice and inspiration]

Networking strategically

Kerry Thorpe, Diocesan Mission and Growth Advisor: There is some amazing pioneer work going on and we are seeing the value of getting practitioners together - to get those who have a wider view, those who need to be learning lessons for the wider church together - so that pioneers and people doing new pieces of work can share their stories with each other so that we can learn the lessons and see how we can best engage in more creative mission right across the board,

[Caption: Strategic hubs - gathering small groups aroudn a common role, skill or interest, to help change the 'fresh expressions' landscape]

Connecting geographically

Tim Yau, Pioneer Minister: Being a pioneer in the eastern region, based in Ipswich, working with the United Reformed Church, at times has felt a bit isolating. I've had to actively go out there and try and find those support networks and people to find encouragement, usually people who are working in similar kind of situations, similar kind of fresh expressions. But what I've also found is in my role as an msm facilitator with the mission shaped ministry course, is that actually I've become the one who's been going out and enabling and encouraging those relationships, going out and actually finding those people in new missional areas who are running fresh expressions or trying to start something new, and being the encouragement and support that they need in the region.

[Caption: Regional/area champions - small groups of experienced and respected practitioners or network leaders in 12-15 regions across the UK]

Supporting practitioners

Ben Dyer, Lay Pioneer Minister: I lead a fresh expression in Ormskirk that is aimed at young adults and I've found mentoring to be invaluable in my experience. I think I've found mentoring to be invaluable in two main ways. Firstly for support - leading a fresh expression has always been quite a lonely experience for me and having someone who can support, pray and encourage you has been great. And the second reason is for advice. Fresh expressions, by their very nature, are new and you have to try lots of things and lots of things won't work. And to have someone to turn to who has more experience and can give you some advice about what you're doing has been great for me. And I think rolling out mentoring across the country would be brilliant.

[Caption: Coaching and mentoring network - a national network of coaches and mentors and easy ways to access it]

[Caption: Pioneer communities - small groups providing stability, acountability and encouragement for pioneers]

[Caption: Pioneer sponsorship - funding for practitioners who will be placed in areas of need]

Resourcing learning

Tina Powsey, Circuit Fresh Expressions Worker: I've been doing fresh expressions work now for almost two years and fresh expressions work is exciting, it's invigorating, it's like having a blank canvas which is great, but that blank canvas can be really daunting when you're looking for information and you're not quite sure which way to go. What would be really great is having one location where you could find all of your resource needs, where you could pull information from just one place at the touch of a button from your laptop.

[Caption: Integrated resource centre - a comprehensive library of resources, freely available and easily accessible]

[Caption: Small group course - a short, video-based set of materials which can help local Christians in small groups to explore and start new forms of church

[Caption: We invite you to continue with us on this wonderfully complex journey of which each one of you is a part... Phil Potter, Archbishops' Missioner and Fresh Expressions Team Leader]


With no reference in the Holy Bible as to how Jesus dressed, nor that he changed his appearance to address different crowds. why then do you find it necessary to change up to "four times a day"?
As we are all part of the same body of Jesus Christ we are dressed in the clothing provided by God. Although, had Eve not given in to temptation in the Garden of Eden, then we would all be clothed how God first intended.
My prayer is that we are able to live in the way that Jesus taught us and in doing so, we should not have to disguise ourselves.

Sounds like you're being inspired to launch a 'naturist' expression :-)

Changing clothes four times in a day to be acceptable to different groups does seem a bit excessive, but isn't that about being 'all things to all people', as St Paul encouraged us to be?

to wear vestments or not to wear vestments, that is the question.

I am exploring this subject as part of a report I need to do on possible careers I might choose. Thank you for your post it has valuable information on this topic.

In your blog I was happy to see your article, better than last time, and have made great progress, I am very pleased. I am looking forward to your article will become better and better.

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