Why start a fresh expression?

We currently have identified over 60 fresh expressions of Church in the Diocese of Southwark who together contain over 3,000 people and this number is growing all the time. In addition we have about 2-3 times that amount of Mission Initiatives that churches put forward as potential fresh expression of Church.

The range of fresh expressions of Church is large with everything from Messy Church and Café Church to New Monastic Communities and Missional Communities and on to Church Plants. They are spread across the wide range of church tradition and socio-economic backgrounds that the Diocese of Southwark covers.

The term “fresh expression” comes from the ordinal where clergy, readers and licensed lay workers on appointment make the Declaration of Assent. The Declaration speaks of the faith we hold, “which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”. Every church therefore, at least at some time, was a “fresh expression” of Church. It is also an apostolic call on us to continue to seek to find ways we can share the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that connect.

Of course, this can then lead people to fear that they are being asked to jettison all that has gone before and do new things that feel alien. The key is to remember that the Church has always developed and adapted. The Catholic missions and church planting of the 19th Century or the Evangelical focus on social justice at the end of the 18th Century and of the 19th Century show a radical continuity. Digging deep into faith these movements interpreted their tradition in deep and authentic ways that showed how radical they could be. An authentic fresh expression of Church will listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying, listen to their context and dig deep into the riches of their tradition. This way allows us to build on the foundations of our faith and practice and yet be challenged into what the Spirit is prompting us to be and do.

As more churches grapple with how to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who don’t currently attend Church the more that many are realising that they need to grapple with culture and what church might look like for people who don’t currently attend. This is resulting in a need to grapple with the insights of the fresh expressions movement. A working definition of a fresh expression of Church is

Fresh Expressions are new forms of church that emerge within contemporary culture and engage primarily with those who don’t ‘go to church’.

One of the key reasons to start fresh expressions of Church is that we need to be planting new worshipping communities that will help the Church of the future. So, we have seen a growth in the number of New Monastic Communities drawing on the heritage and traditions of the past re-imagined for the church of the future. Or there is a model like Messy Church that has developed over the past few years from its inception in Portsmouth to now becoming common place in Southwark with over 50 examples and many of them exploring how they develop a sacramental life together.

There are a number of other reasons to start one:

  • God is missional and asks us to join in. Many are finding that fresh expressions are having a real impact in reaching those who are not part of any church. As a Diocese we are committed to growth and fresh expressions are one of the key ways that we can do this
  • They allow for imaginative responses whilst we continue to invest in our existing congregation (what Archbishop Rowan Williams called “the mixed economy”)
  • Fresh expressions require us to work in community. We discover that we need one another and that god uses peoples gifts in unexpected ways
  • It takes the Apostolic Mission seriously. To follow Jesus commits us to a journey and that usually means to the edges and the corners of our society.
  • Only 1.48% of the population of Southwark Diocese attend an Anglican Church
  • They are exciting as they allow us to dig into the best of our tradition; enable us to look out of the corner of eyes at what God might be calling us to do; release gifts in people who didn’t realise they possessed them; and use the mustard seed of resource that we have available to us to see what God can do.
  • The research shows that 75% of all fresh expressions in the Diocese of Southwark were started with 3 or fewer people so even small churches can be involved.
  • They are contextual and ensure that we need to take account of the needs of the community that we are serving
  • It takes seriously the needs of our churches. If we just changed everything in a Church then we are not honouring those who are part of it. A fresh expression allows you to try something different that is apostolic and prophetic whilst treasuring your church.