Fresh expressions of the United Reformed Church

Monday, 20 July, 2015

Linda Rayner updates the United Reformed Church's progress in taking fresh expressions of church to heart.

These are exciting times for the United Reformed Church (URC). As part of our ongoing restructuring programme we recently appointed three Deputy General Secretaries: one each for Mission, Discipleship and Admin/Resources. The first two indicate that the attention of the denomination is clearly on mission and discipleship, and talks are continuing in order to discern how best to inspire our churches to share the gospel message with people in our local communities, helping church members to recognise that we are all today's disciples - and as such, Jesus has called us all to share in his mission.

The ideas that mission is local and growth is more than 'bums-on-pews' are hugely challenging for many of our 1,500 congregations, and fresh expressions is proving a powerful tool as we work together to become a truly missional denomination.

In 2011 I was privileged to be appointed half-time URC coordinator for fresh expressions, and after much prayerful deliberation (during which time I confess to having had some serious doubts about God's plans), I'm now thanking God every day that the post was extended to full-time this May. This has provided me with the luxury of time to think about how to develop a deliberate strategy for embedding a fresh expressions mindset into our denomination. It's challenging, but for me to see the penny drop as people 'get' the idea, and the excitement as they realise their own church can be part of this movement, is hugely rewarding.

The URC is divided into 13 Synods - huge geographical areas including the Synods of the whole of Scotland and the whole of Wales. Each Synod has at least one dedicated coordinator for fresh expressions of church, and according to the level of understanding and adoption in each area, I work with them in setting up local strategies for introducing/continuing to encourage fresh expressions into each Synod. We are committed to theological and cultural diversity, which means that each congregation is different and has its own ideas regarding mission priorities - and being a conciliar church means that no-one can instruct them to develop a fresh expression, it's a case of persuading them that this is important and effective local mission.

So the intention is to continue with a rolling plan of vision days and mission shaped intro in each Synod, taking into account the specific needs of each area as we go. (Such is the nature of the URC that this type of programme is already well underway in some areas, whilst others have barely heard of fresh expressions of church and need an introduction that is shorter than a vision day). We are also encouraging churches to send teams to mission shaped ministry courses, and talks are continuing at denomination level regarding training for pioneer ministry, both lay and ordained.

The denomination is halfway through a ten-year strategic framework called vision2020, which was adopted in order to inspire and support mission planning at all levels. It consists of ten statements and a check-list of missional indicators like 'intentional sharing of the gospel' and 'inclusivity'. Fresh expressions sit beautifully in many of the statements – including 'spirituality and prayer', 'hospitality and diversity', 'evangelism' and 'church growth'.

These are indeed exciting times for the URC. We now have nine pioneer ministers, and many truly missional churches with a fresh expressions mindset. Our Annual Church Returns now ask which churches are involved with fresh expressions, and I'm really looking forward to being in touch with the ones who ticked the box. It will be great to discover just how much is really going on. I have a feeling there's a lot more than I know.


great is my thankfulness and love to all those who worship anywhere a nd in any faith or none.

know so many URC locally and Churches Together in Malmesbury where I live. seems i can go to Any Place to worship here, these days

i am anglican and attend Malmesbury Abbey primarily...we have an indoor Abbey Skate in Feb half-term...all welcome.. The first time bbc persia service interviewd minister wit CROSS right by side and behind him....ah well, now seems the WORD has spread globally.....Church is about 12th century but been a monastic cell etc from 5-600ad..lots of tourists come anyway. publish fly

ers in all sorts of languages....all welcome! cafe too!!!!!for visitors AND locals...home made cakes/sarnies etc.....mmmmm! a happy place.....

hope you can achieve this, a good thing, i think and God Bless x

Thank you Jen, Keep up the good work!

I live in a village, Northowram, where Oliver Heywood built his Nonconformist Church in 1688. A new church was built in 1838 and has been a very active church in the village. Now the congregation is 14 who are elderly but want to keep the church open. I have joined them from the C of E, (retired minister) and want to encourage them. This is very difficult because synod want them to join with the Methodist church. I think that would work very well but Heywood church has a history which ,I think, could be built on. My aim is not about just having activities but offering the gospel to a village which has trebled in size over the last few years. We are hoping to get the schools involved with the history of the church and involve them in some activity. We have a very strong Brownie and Rainbow group and anything they do brings lots of people. The reading tomorrow is about Jesus feeding the 5,000. What He could do with what we give Him could be miraculous. I have run a fresh expressions café and have followed F Ex. for many years. We will keep praying for new ways to tell the good news.

Hi Jean, Thank you for letting us know about your activities and the issues that face the church in Northowram. I'd be very happy to organise a Fresh Expressions Vision Day as an ecumenical venture in the village if you think it would be helpful in creating a deeper understanding of new expressions of church and why we need to think beyond the church building these days.

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