The language of 'fresh expressions of church' may be killing our mission (Steve Hollinghurst)

Monday, 23 February, 2009

Steve HollinghurstSteven Hollinghurst asks whether the language of 'fresh expressions of church' is killing our mission.

I think we often underestimate the power of language. The words we choose conjure up images of what we are describing, and sometimes these can have unintended consequences. I am increasingly seeing this happen when people use the phrase 'fresh expressions of church'; indeed, even more so when people talk of their mission as 'creating fresh expressions of church'.

I remain a great supporter of both the analysis and aims of the Mission-Shaped Church report which has led to this kind of language. The problem is that the language has taken on a life of its own that means it is often no longer serving that report's vision; indeed, I think it is often working against it.

The insight of the report that we need fresh expressions of church for a new cross-cultural mission situation remains true, but increasingly the effect of the fresh expressions language is leading to something quite different. People seem to have got into their heads that the need is to 'create a fresh expression of church' and not that they are called to cross-cultural mission which may in time, and sometimes a long time, lead to a fresh expression of church emerging from that mission.

The result of this is that people set up whatever kind of fresh expression they think they ought to run and then go looking for people who might want to join it. Such churches are not in the least bit 'mission-shaped'; they are simply a way of consumer niche marketing existing church to provide a wider range of choices for church shoppers.

They have already had the culture of the 'fresh expression' decided for them in advance by a group of well meaning but culturally different Christians

The categorising of fresh expressions as certain types of church may add to the problem, suggesting they are styles of worship. The likely result is that those attracted will be existing church members, or those who have left church. Such churches cannot enable new Christians from non-churched backgrounds to worship in their own culture when they have already had the culture of the 'fresh expression' decided for them in advance by a group of well meaning but culturally different Christians.

So, my suggestion? Let's stop starting fresh expressions of church and let's start doing the real task of cross-cultural mission in the belief that in time fresh expressions will emerge.

About the author: 

Steve Hollinghurst is Researcher in Evangelism to Post-Christian Culture, The Sheffield Centre, Church Army.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
We use spam protection. View privacy policy.