When we are on a journey, we need to learn the basic currency of language for the road. For some, the terminology being used in the Fresh Expressions movement may seem like a foreign language. Here in part three of the Fresh Expressions 101 series, I want to simply provide a “missional travel glossary.” This is simply to collect and clarify some of the key terms and concepts you may have encountered in the missional church movement.
Mixed Economy: In business, an economy in which some industries are privately owned and others are publicly owned or nationalized; or an economy that combines elements of capitalism and socialism, mixing some individual ownership and regulation. In church, a diversity of ecclesial forms in which fresh expressions of church exist alongside inherited forms in relationships of mutual respect and support. The terms use traces back to Archbishop Rowan Williams, who appropriated it from the business world to describe the larger model of ecclesiology emerging in the UK. Inherited and emerging forms of church functioning in a symbiotic relationship is now embraced as the primary missional strategy in England.
At the simplest level, the mixed economy assumes that no single form of church life is adequate to the missional task before us in the West. We need traditional and new forms of church operating together, not in competition, but as compliment. This is a conjunctive form of church, a both/and way.
Inherited Church: Is used in the sense of a form of church passed on as a precious gift by the saints of generations past, also called a “traditional, attractional, gathered, or analog” church sometimes compared to the emerging church. As in our parents leaving us an incredibly valuable inheritance that we must now learn how to steward well.
Emerging Church: Meaning a contextual form of church that reaches and serves people currently outside the inherited church. Emerging churches are typically shaped from a relational interaction between people, cultures, and the Gospel and as such are also referred to as “modern, missional, scattered, or digital” and fresh expressions of church.
Blended Ecology: When local churches cultivate both attractional and emerging forms of church, grafting them together over time, it creates a new kind of communal ecosystem. I have referred to this elsewhere as a “blended ecology of church” (for more on this read Deep Roots, Wild Branches: Revitalizing the Church in the Blended Ecology). One place this can be seen clearly in Scripture is in Acts 15. There we see the inherited church (Jerusalem) and the emerging church (Antioch) not only living together but giving life to each other. Here’s a diagram of the text to illustrate this:
In the local setting, as we envision the communities that cradle the life of our congregations as relational ecosystems, we can begin to see that every place is a potential church space where the Spirit is already at work, and every follower of Jesus in the “priesthood of all believers” can turn their passions and places into forms of church. We use the terminology developed by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe these places…
First Place: The home or primary place of residence.
Second Place: The workplace or school place.
Third Place: The public places separate from the two usual social environments of home and workplace, that host regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals; examples are environments such as cafes, pubs, clubs, parks, and so on.
Fourth Place: This is a neutral place that blends together a fresh expression and an inherited gathering. At Wildwood we realized people we connected with in our Fresh Expressions were making the journey back to visit our traditional worship services, but would rarely return. So we created a fourth place we call New Life. This is a blended worship experience, which is as intentionally non-institutional as we can get. This seems to be a soft place to land for the so-called “nones” and “dones” of our community. New Life started in a renovated fellowship hall and is a kind of middle-space for the people who are encountering Jesus for the first time. This is now our most attended worship experience.
Here’s a diagram of the blended ecology ecosystem:
In a pandemic world, for those of us who are fresh expressions practitioners, our two primary mission spaces have been closed off, the second and third places are shut down. We cannot have Tattoo Parlor Church, the tattoo parlor is closed. We cannot gather in Moe’s Southwest Grill for Burritos and Bibles, they are doing take-out only. The dog park is empty, as people are quarantined at home… no Paws of Praise.
This limits us to the only spaces we have left:
- The first place, or the home place.
- The digital place, or the “space of flows.”
Some of our fresh expressions are currently deceased, others, like Digital Yoga Church (practicing yoga together through Facebook Live and YouTube), Supper Table Church (families eating meals together in quarantine connected by screens) and Underground Seminary (a gathering of lay and clergy learning together through Zoom) are thriving thrive like never before.
The idea is to offer relationship, and to share in formational Christian practices, connected across space and time through technological flows.
In the pandemic, we are discovering that digital space is its own kind of “third place” a neutral, communal gathering location.
Nones: People who claim no religious affiliation or practice.
Dones: People who once practiced a religion, but no longer do.
Re-missioning: Stuart Murray, in Church After Christendom writes, “The brightest hope for the church after Christendom is a symbiotic relationship between inherited and emerging churches.” Churches that are experimenting with fresh expressions are experiencing transformations.
The transformation that occurs in a blended ecology is a form of revitalization, but it is different than prevailing revitalization strategies. Re-missioning describes this process of reorienting a church around the Great Commission in a local setting.
Where revitalization often involves internal adjustments—an inside-out approach (better preaching, better coffee, better programs, etc.) Re-missioning involves an outside-in approach. As we join what the Spirit is up to in our communities, cultivating fresh expressions, the congregation experiences positive transformation through this “symbiotic relationship” (i.e. feedback loops which describes outputs of a system being routed back as inputs thus forming a loop. Seemingly small inputs eventually magnify into large-scale transformation).
In my previous post I referenced the difference between potential and actual fresh expressions, the four C’s, and the journey toward maturity. We’ve also noted some excited developments taking place as local churches cultivate fresh expressions in the community.
Bridge Backs: Some fresh expressions intentionally connect people back to the inherited church, as well as connect inherited church people to the fresh expression. So, this “bridge” is often a two-way street. Also, inadvertently as people grow in their relationship with Jesus, the negative stereotypes they have about church and Christians is challenged. They become willing to explore more traditional forms of church. They effectively “bridge back” into the larger church.
Mission Edge: Mission edge or “edge lands” refers to the exciting missional activities and outreach efforts that are important and needed but would not really constitute a new form of church. The “four C’s” can be helpful here. For instance, the men’s Bible study that has been meeting in the local coffee shop for 15 years is important and impactful, but it’s not “community with not-yet-Christians.” A traditional church plant in the local elementary school is a fundamentally crucial endeavor, but it may not meet the “contextually appropriate” criteria. A weekly prayer gathering at city hall may evolve into church, but it’s not “creating disciples” or currently church in its own right. The important question to ask here, “do the people in this gathering consider this fully their ‘church’?”
Finally, all of these activities are essential. They are beautiful, good, and true. In no way should you be discouraged in what you are doing. There are no “fresh expressions police” who will pull your over and write you a ticket.
When we set our hearts toward our community in love, Jesus is saying over us “well done good and faithful servant.” Many of the things we start may never become a mature fresh expression of church. The essence of this movement is about the kingdom of God, not saving a dying Christendom. When we join what the Spirit is up to in our neighborhoods and networks, every aspect of life can be transfigured. Don’t set out to plant fresh expressions, just set out to find ways to love the people in your community who don’t go to church, and see what God does.
I hope this missional travel glossary helps you on your journey of forming new Christian communities. Be encouraged and keep up the good work!