Kris Beckert suggests five things to try this summer if you're looking to discern where a fresh expression of church might be appropriate.
Before being called into ministry, I was an environmental scientist by trade. Much of my job consisted of asking questions, forming hypotheses, designing how I'd test them, and coming up with results.
Entering into the Church world didn't change the way my brain works – it merely changed the mission and subject of the experiments. Maybe that's why I see this whole idea of starting fresh expressions of church as an experiment in listening and serving the people in our own context—and letting the need and environment dictate the form and structure instead of the other way around. And although these experiments may not demand our standing knee-deep in waders all day in the middle of a marsh, it does require us to step out and serve, try new things, and experiment in our neighbourhoods and communities. You only learn by doing it, not thinking about it.
As an environmental scientist, the summer was always the most opportune time in our research season, and I think it might also be the case when we're talking about starting fresh expressions of church. If you're looking for a chance to see what God might do through a potential fresh expression of church this summer, think about experimenting in one or more of the following areas.
1) Festivals, fairs, and 5K runs
Every town has them; do you know what they are? Even if an art exhibition or pet show don't happen to be 'your thing', it might be a learning and listening experience that God uses in your own spiritual formation. Why not get your family and friends to volunteer together to serve? Street markets and fairs are the perfect chance to do some listening in your community too. Sit on a bench and watch who turns up – and who doesn't. Ask God to reveal who you might be called to reach while you are handing out water or walking from one stall to another.
2) Prayer walking
Now that it's nice enough to be outside and light until late, why not gather a group or go by yourself to prayer walk your community? Pray for the places you pass; the schools, businesses, shops, homes. The Holy Spirit might urge you to chat with someone on your path with whom you might not have otherwise spoken. What do you notice? Who and what cries out to you in your community? Take the time to listen.
3) Go outside
Jesus spent a lot of time in the great outdoors and met a lot of people there, even on his way from place to place. Creating opportunities for people to gather can be anything from organising a street party to flying a kite at a local park. Or, if fishing is your thing, share in it with some youngsters – and their families – and invite them all to share in a cooking session afterwards. Jesus found potential disciples in fishermen, maybe you will too. If you don't have a garden, throw together an urban picnic at a school playground or provide the ice creams at a neighbours' get-together; God might open your eyes to a new group of people when you use the good weather as an excuse to get to know them!
4) Holidays for the family-less
Father's Day, August Bank Holiday, or special events like the World Cup – these are times when families get together for barbecues and picnics. However, there will be lots of people in your community who don't have family in the area. Who are these people? What could you do? On Mother's Day this year, a woman in my church invited me to share in a picnic with others from her block of flats who didn't have mothers to visit. She was the person of peace, introducing me to everyone as we shared our food together and had a great time. It occurred to me that we could do this for every holiday and probably make some new friends too. After all, Jesus spent time with those nobody else wanted to spend time with – and that's where he grew His Kingdom too. Are you willing to do the same?
5) Teachers and students
It's the end of the school year so how can you serve weary teachers and students at this time? Could you drop off some pastries and free coffee for teaching staff in the last, long, week of school? Are there children who might need healthy lunches and companionship with other youngsters in your community over the summer? Or do you live near a university where students and professors will be on campus for a summer school? How could you share the Good News there?
These are just a sample of potential 'experiments' you might try as you see if God leads you to start a fresh expression of church. Here comes summer… what are you going to do with it?
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