Cultivating a fresh expression is a journey. Think of your team as a group of adventurers embarking together out into unknown terrain. There is no map per se, no step by step plan that if taken will lead to a finished “product.” However, there is a compass. Every step is not known. There will be stop signs, detours, and U-turns. You may never actually arrive at the destination. But each of the following movements, and the journey itself is good, beautiful, and true.
I’m often asked, “what’s the difference between a fresh expression and an outreach ministry?” The simple answer is a fresh expression becomes “church” in its own right. Are the people gathering in this community becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ? Do they say, “this is my church”? One way to understand potential and actual fresh expressions is to locate where you are as a community in the following circles:
Stage One: Listening
The first stage of cultivating fresh expressions within the community is prayerful “double listening.” Double listening includes listening to both “God and context.” Rather than assuming we already know our context, this requires us to take a posture of curiosity and wonder. We look at our community with the soft eyes of a learner. This cannot be overemphasized.
Stage Two: Loving/Serving
This is simply about finding ways to be with people in our community, loving and serving them with no agenda. As we do so, we may need to stand in the gap to meet physical needs, providing clothing, food, resources, or whatever other lack there may be. Once we understand this dynamic, from a place of genuine withness, as needs emerge within the community, we can work together to meet those needs.
Stage Three: Building Community
The fresh expressions approach is one of long-term incarnational engagement. It is through the repeated patterns of faithful presence that loving and serving becomes authentic community. Time is the fertilizer of relationships. As relationships gain strength, trust begins to build among the group. A profound sense of connectedness begins to form, as we gather around the habitual practices. The community becomes a source of life as we experience the healing of our isolation. Not only do we enjoy being around each other, but it becomes something we look forward too. We start to find an authentic sense of belonging.
Stage Four: Exploring Discipleship
In this stage, the group begins to intentionally explore the Christian faith. This occurs through a mixture of both formal learning (intentional conversations) and social learning (simply sharing in the rhythms of life together). More mature believers may begin to form mentorships with younger apprentices, spending time outside the group, discipling them through the messy relational process. There is no formal program. We are operating primarily in the realm of improvisation, sensitive to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, responding and adjusting as we go. This kind of evangelism requires us to be sensitive to the fact that God is already at work in every life. But this must be balanced with our call to offer Jesus to others. When disciples of Christ are beginning to be formed, we are moving fully into ecclesia, a community centered around the risen Jesus, or simply … church.
Stage Five: Church Taking Shape
When people are beginning to enter into relationship with Jesus, bend their life to the truth of scripture, and become passionate about self-giving, other-oriented, withness, church is taking shape. This may not appear to be our conventional understanding of church. Each fresh expression may be as diverse as the group or practice it is centered around, but the marks of the church begin to become a kind of compass for the journey: one, holy, apostolic, catholic—in fresh expressions language, we appropriate and remix those words to speak of the essentials as inward, upward, outward, and ofward.
Stage Six: Do It Again
The potential for multiplication with fresh expressions is huge. In the McDonaldized church we are often focused on durability, something is healthy if it withstands the test of time. However, a close reading of Scripture and Christian movements in history show that “durability” in an institutional sense is not the main concern. There are periods of the church’s life when it flourishes briefly then goes underground or takes a new form, for instance in Jerusalem or Antioch. The greater concern is multiplication. While there is certainly a sameness and stability in the church, she has survived the test of time not by staying the same for long periods of time, but through multiplication in an unending array of contextual variations, while staying rooted in the first principles revealed in Scripture.
The journey is the normal process through which a fresh expression of church forms, however, new developments have been observed. I will describe the mixed economy, blended ecology, pioneer ministry, and remissioning in my next post. Stay tuned!