Graham Cray, incoming leader of the Fresh Expressions team, gives his thoughts on the future of the church.
I think the church over the next few years is going to hear the word of the Lord through the credit crunch. A former diocesan secretary in Canterbury used to say:
The Church of England as it is now structured cannot afford the Church of England as it is now structured.
And my guess is, that is true for almost every historic building with plants and churches and manses and so on.
The critical question then is, if we have to be a more lightweight church in terms of plants and bureaucracy – not in terms of theology and spiritual vision – then will we find the way to live the mixed economy in the new realities? I'm quite convinced that means a townwide partnership of every church willing to take part; that we dare not compete with one another. We do need to complement one another's strengths. And one of the threads that runs right through that sort of ecumenism is actually fresh expressions.
The real changes will be renewing of imagination to do church with less of the very costly historic resources
So it may be that in God's economy – and having been taken by surprise by what he's done already, I'm just having a guess at how he might take us by surprise in the future – that this becomes critical in enabling the energetic partnership of churches together doing lighter weight church in serious mission and involvement in their communities. Hope08 gives a hint of that. I think fresh expressions gives a hint of that.
The real changes, I think, will be renewing of imagination to do church with less of the very costly historic resources. That doesn't mean the mixed economy disappears, because we will still in historic denominations do beautiful liturgy, do dignified worship. But I am convinced that there's got to be some significant change in the use of our available resources.
It is sometimes thought that fresh expressions of church are just for small, struggling or even failing churches. But the vision of a mixed economy approach applies to all churches, even those which seem to be doing well. Archbishops' Missioner and Team Leader of Fresh Expressions, Bishop Graham Cray, has been looking at one church which asked the question: 'Who will we never reach if we carry on as we are?'
St Andrew's, Histon is a charismatic evangelical church in a village just to the north of Cambridge, with an average Sunday attendance of about 250. But the vicar, James Blandford-Baker, realised that they were missing many people who would never come into a Sunday service. So At Andrew's began Essence three years ago in an attempt to offer mothers a space to explore their spirituality alongside the Christian narrative.
Fresh expressions of church make up one part of a mixed economy church, a creative partnership between inherited models of church in an area and the development of fresh expressions. The Fresh Expressions Initiative is an ecumenical partnership in mission – as churches of many denominations work together to reach those whom existing churches are unlikely to reach. For all of this to be a reality local churches need to be partners in mission. A deanery can be just the right size unit for theory to become practice.
The mixed economy is a working reality. What has happened in one deanery can happen in many.
Sometimes mission involves being sent to the nations, but it may mean welcoming the nations which have been sent to you. Pioneer ministry can require creative projects, designed to engage the imagination of the unchurched, or it can mean some very traditional pastoral care being offered to a community not otherwise touched by its parish church. In the case of Revd Debbie Forman, (Assistant Curate at St John the Evangelist, Innsworth, Gloucestershire, and Pioneer Minister for Innsworth), it involves it all – international hospitality, creativity and pastoral care.
Imjin Barracks in Innsworth welcomed almost 1,000 servicemen and women and their families to join NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps this summer. In all about 520 new families from 15 countries came to Innsworth, some living on the camp itself and others on the estate where Debbie works. People are encouraged to worship outside the camp at churches in the town, there is no provision for church worship on the base itself. This can be difficult for people to access in an unknown place so Debbie, who speaks several languages, sees part of her role as being that of a welcomer.
Pioneer ministry is not about trendy ideas. It is about creatively reaching those whom no-one else is reaching.
Approximately one third of adults in Britain have never had any significant involvement with a Christian church in their lives, including as children. This 'non-churched' group is, on average, considerably younger than those who go to church.
Britain needs primary evangelism more than ever, but there can be no 'quick fix'. It requires an imaginative and long term, incarnational, engagement, meeting people where they are. In many cases 'where they are' is the workplace, and Christian congregations have not always had a good track record in connecting discipleship to the stresses and demands of work and career.
Youth congregations, particularly those based around skate boarding, are sometimes claimed as proof that fresh expressions of church are only about stand alone niche churches. But the Legacy XS youth congregation in Benfleet, which first appeared on expressions: the dvd – 1 is an integrated part of St George's Church, New Thundersley, and has an impact on its community far beyond young skaters.
Often fresh expressions of church begin with a specific local opportunity as their starting point, as with Legacy XS, but Legacy also shows how mission and ministry can unfold in a way that could not be predicted at the start. First small steps of faith can result in a significant impact on a community.
Kairos – previously St Mary's Low Harrogate – was launched when the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, gave his blessing to it being made a Bishop's Mission Order.
This parish was originally established to serve an area of Harrogate from the centre near the Pump Rooms right up to Harlow Hill at the edge of the town. Two worship centres were built, St Mary's as the main parish church and All Saints – a chapel at the top of Harlow Hill for the surrounding area. St Mary's was closed in January 2007 due to severe problems with the building. At almost the same time All Saints had to close its doors, again because of concerns about the building, and it was formally shut down in 2009. The church continued to pray and work towards effective discipleship and mission and St Mary's moved into Harrogate Grammar School for Sunday services until summer 2008.
By then it had started a significant transition from parish church to a fresh expression of church, serving the whole deanery of Harrogate, helping it to develop a mixed economy approach. Pioneer Minister Mark Carey acknowledges that Kairos is 'very much in a transition stage with elements of inherited church in the midst of all the other stuff going on – it’s a classic mixed economy encapsulated into one setting!' Fully part of the Deanery and the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds, St Mary's became Kairos Church because Kairos is a Greek word of great significance for Christians as it speaks of the appointed time in the purpose of God.
Kairos demonstrates the mixed economy in a number of ways: it supplements its deanery’s parochial ministry with a network approach. It draws on both inherited and fresh expression elements in its own ministry, and it is itself diverse, allowing the development of smaller missional communities. It is an example of 'making the mixed economy work', which will be the subject of a Fresh Expressions national day conference with Archbishop Rowan in Oxford on May 6th.
Our Methodist colleagues in the Fresh Expressions initiative have nearly 1,000 fresh expressions of church. This means that almost one in five Methodist churches is involved in encouraging new forms of church for those who are not already members of any church.
When the Dartford Bridge area became ripe for redevelopment the local Methodist Church appointed Bart Woodhouse as lay leader of a new church plant team. The result is The Beacon.
What is the best way to plant church into a new housing development? Get there early, but commit to stay long term.
Schools, especially church schools, provide one of the most strategic and achievable ways to plant a fresh expression of church in close partnership with their parish church or churches.
A fresh expression in a church school adds a vital dimension to the school's existing ministry. In a good church school there will already be a Christian value base, collective worship with a Christian ethos, and RE, hopefully taught by someone with a real interest in it. A fresh expression complements all of that by creating a voluntary gathering for children, patents and staff who want to explore Christianity more personally. A mixed economy opportunity is on the doorstep of many parishes: as SMASH in Faversham demonstrates.
It is comparatively quick and easy to set up an event in an attempt to gather some new people into church. It is quite another thing to reconnect to a community, the greater part of which gets by just fine without reference to the church at all – so says Bishop Graham Cray, Archbishops' Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team.
There is no quick fix solution to the re-evangelisation of the United Kingdom. As it has taken decades for Church and society to grow apart to the degree that they have today, so it will take time to bring them back together again.
One of the characteristics of the Mission of God in which we share, is divine patience – 30 years of divine patience before the public ministry of Jesus began, endless patience with each sinner to keep open the possibility that they might repent. God does take His time, whatever time is necessary. In the same way, patient, incarnational ministry, an avoidance of short cuts and a commitment to the long term, need to mark the development of fresh expressions.
The story (so far) of Tulloch NET illustrates this well.