New Horizons in Hemel Hempstead was featured on the first Fresh Expressions DVD (expressions: the dvd – 1). They provided much in the way of social action. Have things changed since then? Pastor Arno Steen Andreasen tells of the current state of play.
We are very much moving ahead even in these difficult times. Our Sunday worship service takes place at Woodhall Farm Community Centre and New Horizons is now offering CAP debt counselling, two Sure Start Children's Centres covering over 1,500 families, the Ignite special needs school, an international degree programme, management of a community centre and support for an orphanage in India where we have also started two churches. We have another church in Sri Lanka and we will be starting a human rights project there in April.
The last few years have also seen us providing:
- adult learning to 500 people a year, including offenders and people with learning difficulties/disabilities;
- accelerate youth leadership training;
- DreamKeepers mentoring programme for primary children with behaviour problems.
The development of emerging church, fluid church or fresh expressions of church language means that Christians sometimes lose sight of what church is all about. For me it's crucial that we constantly look to Acts 2:42-47. Some people describe what they're doing in a community as being radical but I see many of those things – such as having a meal together – as an expression of mission, not church.
The other concern I have is that the poor and vulnerable need structure to make sure that they have access to discipleship, training, etc. If things are too fluid, they easily lose out. I might have the inner strength to take the initiative in order to learn, develop and train but not everybody is proactive like that. We need to make sure we cater for the people who do not so easily take the initiative or have the drive to move forward in faith and life.
If churches get involved in social action, as we do, people need to make a decision as to whether they want to be able to evangelise directly or not. If they receive public funding, then they are restricted in what they can do and how they do it. If they want full freedom, then they need to self-fund it or have individual donors. If they receive grants, even from Christian grant makers, they typically will have to do some monitoring or have some objectives that fit the funder.
I want to be part of a fresh expression of church in some respects but we are also quite old-fashioned in the way we approach things because we base our understanding of church on Acts 2. One chap wanted to come here on a placement because he had seen it as a fresh expression, but when we explained that a lot of what we did could be seen as traditional he didn't want the placement at all. We are a fresh expression with an old gospel.
I think it is important to have a clear picture of what church is all about. New expressions of church could easily be used by people who do not like accountability and just want to do their own thing. There are a lot of powerful initiatives around, but do they carry the Spirit of Christ? We try with our staff team to discern how we should work with people and which methods to use. We will then discard even powerful methods if we do not think they fit the Spirit of Jesus.
I think it is easy to copy structures when we learn about each other's projects but it is the values behind the structures that are important. We had this discussion when we started the churches in India and Sri Lanka. They asked us if they also had to sit around tables and have breakfast at their Sunday services as we do. My response was that it is not the structure/style that is important but the value behind the structure. The value is fellowship and they need to find ways to implement that in their services.
Our work has been recognised by the local authority and we were asked to extend that work into a different borough but we said no because we didn't have a church in that area. Our community work flows from church and not the other way round; an incarnational ministry must mean we are right here, on the spot. I don't have a local connection there. It would be all too easy for us to become a high quality social provider rather than an expression of church.
I was also asked if New Horizons could start things in nine districts across Hertfordshire, as well as our own. They would have covered the whole of the county. The projects had funding put aside for them and it was all very tempting because the tendency is to think, 'I could reach an extra 500 or 1,000 people by doing one such project or another' but the fact is that you're not reaching them because you are not reaching them for church.
We need people to fall in love with the local church, for it to be the most exciting and supportive of places. As part of that, I have been really impressed by Christians Against Poverty and its debt counselling service because they don't start something unless it's part and parcel of the local church. They become an empowering ministry within it.
If you have the backing of a traditional church or denomination and are looking to develop new ways of being church in a community, the most important thing to slot into place is the funding and the awareness of how that funding stream will affect what you do.
I will always be 'grilled' as a church leader when I apply for funding. I do not think that is right but it is what I have had to get used to and learn to accept. There are always some outside funders who don't want anything to do with church but I can point to the quality reports from independent assessors and relevant bodies which prove that we are good at what we do. I have evidence to show that we are more diverse, that we have the biggest reach and so on. I would not get involved in setting up new projects if I did not keep on fighting for them – even if I am rejected by funders.