On Wednesday most of our house group went to the Fresh Expressions Roadshow which was visiting Thatcham, a few miles from here. I liked the prayer on the front cover of their brochure. It read, 'Living God, set our hearts on fire to risk ourselves for your mission to change the world.' The key questions being posed during our time together were -
What are the loud words of Jesus to your Church community now, which speak to you of God's call to journey to new people?
What are the possibilities that are emerging for new initiatives in your situation?
What particular gifts/charisms has God given to your Church community? (What is the essential nature of your Church?)
In what ways is your Church responding to changing times?
Right at the start we were reminded that 'It is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world.'
First we were startled by a presentation that vividly depicted the situation in the UK today, where 10% are 'regular' at church (attending monthly or more), 10% are irregular at church (less than monthly), 20% are open to come back, 20% are never coming back and 40% are non-churched (who have never come). It was then explained that until now we've tended to work with those on the fringe of the church, only to come to a stop when we reach those who declare that they are never coming back. So the suggestion was that we should work anti--Church-wise and employ alternative radical new initiatives which go out to the unchurched, allowing new forms of church to emerge. This approach certainly makes sense!
The suggested starting point was loving service, and it was emphasised that there are many ways in which we can show the people in our community that our Church really cares about the community and wants to share its love for the people in it. Becoming involved with the community is vital to fresh expressions of Church, because from that loving involvement spring opportunities for evangelism and discipledhip. We explored three possible routes to discipleship - building in Christianity from the start, building in spirituality from the start or creating a separate group. We were reminded0 that there are 4 dimensions of a mature Church -
UP - towards God
IN - fellowship
OUT - mission
OF - connected to the whole body of Christ.
Then we each chose two of a number of 'taster' sessions in which we learned more about recently established forms of Fresh Expressions. I chose 'The Liquid Church' or 'Cafe Church', in which an ordinary coffee shop is used to get alongside the people and gently introduce them to the Good News of Jesus. This is what some of us in our Church have vaguely talked about and it seems to be the most likely for our community. Time will tell whether we actually take the risk and put this into practice. Then I went to the session on 'What makes a healthy Church?' to learn more of the 4 vital dimensions of a healthy church.
Other possibilities that were presented to us were,'What do they say about your church?' - and our attention was drawn to Bridge Builders, a Christian organisation dedicated to providing training for mediation and facilitation services to equip Christians with appropriate skills; Global Mission Network who can offer a trained consultant to use consultancy skills in the Church so that Ministers and Church Workers can explore their work together to find the right way forward; Godly Play which is built on the Montessori tradition of religious education and can be used in a variety of settings; the Positive Parenting Course which lasts 8 weeks and is produced by The Family Caring Trust; a 'Holiday at Home', designed for those who don't normally have a holiday and specially useful at times when the normal church activities shut down in December and August; the Essence Course, which is a 6 week course exploring contemporary spirituality at quite a deep level (a very rich experience); Hope 2008 which provides ideas and practical examples of initiatives for Christians engaging with their communities; and the faith development potential of the small group.
Fresh Expressions has so many possibilities and is so flexible that each Church should be able, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to find the right way forward for their particular community. It involves faith and risk-taking, just like the first disciples, but we are challenged to try it. The Fresh Expressions roadshow booklet ends with the wise words 'Start with the Church and the mission will probably get lost. Start with mission and it is likely that the Church will be found.'