Why do fresh expressions fail?

Monday, 18 October, 2010

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

Establishing a fresh expression involves a risk of faith. It does not come with a cast iron guarantee of success. Learning comes through action and reflection, not so much through having a good grasp of the theory in advance. First attempts at anything new often result in lessons about doing it better next time and that is no failure. Sometimes fresh expressions seem to have failed when they have simply run their course. A project, perhaps with young people, was seasonal, it was never meant to be long term sustainable. If it has had a time of fruitful mission that is no failure.

But the important thing about risks of faith is that they are not about blind faith. They are about trusting God from a clear view of the realities of your situation, not about seeming to trust while you are not facing the realities of your situation. 308 Nailsea was an imaginative attempt to reach families on one of the more distant estates in the parish. Plenty was learned for future events with families, but in the end it mainly attracted visitors from other churches wanting to learn how to do something similar. It did not attract the people on the estate, despite being in the school that many of the children attended. The lesson being 'If it's not working, stop.'

There is no science which helps us know exactly when we have crossed the line between faithfully waiting for something to work and acknowledging that our much loved fresh expression is not reaching unchurched people. However the moment we realise that we are putting in lots of creative energy month by month for no effective missional purpose, it is certainly time to review.

Perhaps the key lesson is that fresh expressions are more likely to be fruitful if they grow out of relationships, than if they use an event to establish relationships.

We need to be more concerned about helping unchurched people find faith and Christian community and less concerned about the success of much loved projects in which we have invested our hopes and energies. This is not so much a time for 'heroic failures' as for learning from previous experience and trying again, under the direction of the Holy Spirit.



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