Following the missionary Spirit – questions and answers

Part of the Following the missionary Spirit day was a panel question and answer with Rowan Williams, Martyn Atkins and Graham Cray. Many more questions were asked than we had time to answer, so we have endeavoured to respond the the rest here.

Questions asked on the day

Listen to Rowan, Martyn and Graham respond to these questions below.

  • How do we stir people in our churches, challenging the human tendency to individualism, so they become part of creating places of belonging with us?
  • Moving from simply ‘belonging’ to discipleship. How?
  • As Fresh Expressions moves forward, would the next step be for the fresh expression congregations to be encouraged to work with the inherited church in intentional social action, to demonstrate true church (the Kingdom of God) to those outside church, bring together the inherited and new and regain credibility in society?
  • Do we need a changed perspective on resources if we are to have fresh expressions that are fruitful and sustainable?
  • How will fresh expressions be equipped to avoid the pitfalls of rigid structure that has limited the flexibility of established church organisations?
  • How can we help each other?

You can listen to Rowan, Martyn and Graham respond to these questions below.

How can pioneer ministry be seen as cutting edge against the backdrop of the rejection of the women bishops’ measure? What good things are there (if any) of explaining this decision.

Graham Cray responds: Both the Archbishop and I profoundly regret the General Synod’s rejection of the legislation for women bishops, and are glad that new proposals are to be brought to the Synod next year. There is a large overall majority in favour in the Synod, and in the Church of England as a whole, and it is only a matter of time before legislation is passed. I do not see any significant connection between this and the commitment to pioneering ministry, which the Synod has affirmed unanimously three times. However, ancient institutions change slowly and in an uneven way, as regrettably this vote demonstrated.

What is a fresh expression? What isn’t? How do you stop putting on events and start building church?

Ben Clymo responds: Our What is a fresh expression? page contains the definition we use and unpacks and explores what that means (and you may enjoy the short video on that page which explains what is and what isn't a fresh expression quite succinctly). This page also links to more detailed information in the Guide about what is and isn't a fresh expression.

The Guide also contains a wealth of information on developing a fresh expression, including information on moving from loving and serving (and putting on events) to exploring discipleship.

When will pioneer ministry be properly funded? Is it sustainable to resources both traditional ministry and fresh expressions?

Graham Cray responds: It is sustainable to maintain commitment to the mixed economy because both are needed to reach the breadth of our mission field. At the moment traditional ministry reaches more people than fresh expressions, but fresh expressions are particularly relevant for the one third of the population which has no previous history with any church, as well as many of those who are no longer involved.

However there does need to be greater resources released to support pioneer ministry. But the sheer scale of the task means that this cannot be done simply by allocating existing resources differently. We will need to establish new models of releasing and supporting pioneers.

Do we attempt to move people from 'non-church' fresh expressions to 'trad church'? How to avoid the gap between the two to be so fresh that the sparkplug fails to ignite?

Ben Clymo responds: Fresh expressions are intentionally church in themselves and not just a route into 'traditional' church. That does not mean that nobody will move from the fresh expression into a more traditional congregation (and vice versa) – indeed that does happen – but inherent in the definition of a fresh expression is that it is not just a bridge to existing church.

It is vital for all fresh expressions (and indeed all churches) that they maintain strong and robust connections to the wider Church – the 'of' dimension of the 'up, out, in, of' way of seeing church.

How can we reframe our ecumenical relationships and legal structures so that we can respond quickly enough to new opportunities to work together?

How/when will support structures be empowered to make effective change and bring sustainability to fresh expressions of church?

Graham Cray responds: Work is already underway for some agreed processes on 'Right Touch' ecumenism. The idea is to be able to provide recognition and support for an appropriate level of partnership, which facilitates mission, without assuming that it will have to develop into a formal Local Ecumenical Partnership, under the present legislation.

Support and help towards sustainability can be provided in a number of ways – in the Church of England through Bishop's Mission Orders and the support of Visitors, across denominations through mutual networking as part of FEASTS, through learning communities or networks of pioneers. Above all through good research, which informs denominations and senior leaders about the most effective ways in which they can invest their limited resources. We are still on a learning curve about sustainability.

I wonder how we in the Church of England are taking seriously the learning we've gathered from the work so far and how its being used to plan strategy for the future? Is it impacting the wider church?

Graham Cray responds: The fresh expressions movement is now old enough for research to be worthwhile. The Fresh Expressions team gathers and shares learning, often in story form through its website, and feeds it to partner denominations. We have a round table which brings research departments together. The msm course is revised in the light of practitioner experience. The Church of England Ministry Division Pioneer Panel reports to the Ministry Council each year.

Who has a fresh expression developed specifically for the elderly? I'd love to know what is happening

Ben Clymo responds: We have featured several stories of fresh expressions with older people on our site and the Guide also contains several examples of fresh expressions for older people. We also have a seminar pack addressing this area and Mike Collyer, who wrote the seminar pack, has written a couple of comment pieces on the subject: The invisible generation and Ageing church congregations: problem or challenge?.

Do you think tensions exist between fresh expressions of church and traditional church settings? If so, what are they and how can they be resolved?

How do we invest in Fresh Expressions and maintain the relevance and integrity of 'normal' church?

Graham Cray responds: Clearly there are often tensions within local churches between the old and the new, and fresh expressions and inherited church will be no different. These are best overcome by goodwill, patience and clear communication. The mixed economy is not intended as a device for separate development, but implies mutual concern, mutual understanding and mutual blessing.

You can find more on this in our response to the question, Is the opposite of a fresh expression a stale expression of church?.

Will fresh expressions be (or indeed are they already) encouraged to identify and disciple leaders from a young age where the gifts, calling and character potential are identified?

Karen Carter reponds: The fresh expressions movement very much embraces this value of encouraging the identification and discipling of emerging leaders within the mission of a fresh expression… of all ages according to gift, calling and character, and wherever it's applicable.

Stories featured on our DVDs and website – as well as all training materials – would seek to express this philosophy. However, for any given new fresh expression mission initiative, this will obviously depend on the local leadership.

There are many notable fresh expressions that are doing an outstanding job in encouraging leadership among the emerging generations. This approach can clearly be seen, for instance, in re:generation, a Methodist fresh expression of church in Romford. In early 2010 they had a census on the church's age and the gender breakdown – the average age was 25, and most of those on the 10-strong leadership team were in their early 20s. A core value of the work of re:generation has been discipleship. Now weekly Bible studies are increasingly led by the young people, and they also have rotas to lead the prayer ministry time and input from Scripture.

Are there many fresh expressions exploring meditation and the contemplative tradition?

Ben Clymo responds: Yes, there are. You can find some contemplative and meditation examples in our stories, as well as new monasticism stories and, in the Guide, examples of new monastic fresh expressions. Our Sanctus DVD features stories of sacramental and contemplative fresh expressions and we have a round table drawing together those exploring fresh expressions in the sacramental and contemplative tradition.

Most/all of the examples are of areas where there are fairly clear needs. How do you identify the need in a semi-rural averagely prosperous community?

How do you do fresh expression of church in rural areas where all you have is a church unseen down a lane and few other meeting places?

Pete Atkins responds: Starting a fresh expression of church should be in response to listening to God and following His direction in any community – rural or urban. This will not always result in meeting identified need as a first step. Jesus' approach was often to accept hospitality offered (advice he repeated to those he was sending out in two's) and in his incarnation we see the ultimate in the vulnerability of the one sent in mission. Our experience in middle class rural communities is that prayer, relationship building and having a willingness to seek help from others as well as to serve will lead to missional opportunity and the establishment of a new community of faith – which may be very different from our initial thinking. It may be that engagement with those who are better off will take place as together with them we seek to meet need in another community altogether – possibly abroad or a particularly needy sector of society in this country.

One of the main principles of fresh expressions of church is that we need to go to where people are rather than ask them to come to us. In sparsely populated rural areas where there are few amenities this will often mean using homes as places of meeting. In rural areas, small groups (eg. cell format, discussion groups, film nights, supper clubs) are often a very effective way forward for the development of fresh expressions of church – which will be based in homes and not primarily in the building down the lane.

Encouraging existing Christians to focus on prayer and build relationships whilst involving themselves in the usual life of the community will lead to the opening of missional opportunities which may well naturally be in the environment of the hospitality a home can bring.

Wouldn't you say that it is already our responsibility as Christians to reach out to our communities (as well as the rest of the world) as fresh expressions does? What is the difference?

Ben Clymo responds: It is the responsibility of all Christians to reach out to their communities – and the rest of the world – and Christians and churches have been doing this (and often doing it very well) through mission and mission projects for a very long time. A fresh expression of church differs in that although it may have started out as a missional project or outreach, at some point it has become intentional about growing a new community of Christians and not just bringing people into an existing one. Our page exploring what a fresh expression is has more on this.

To what extent is belonging weakened by an exclusive doctrine?

Graham Cray responds: There are boundaries of shared commitment in any community or it would have no cohesion as a community. Christians are bound together by a shared faith. Within that faith it is up to each fresh expression to determine the breadth of belief with which it is comfortable. However all Christian communities are to be characterised by grace and hospitality.

What future funding commitments are you going to make to Fresh Expressions?

Graham Cray responds: The Fresh Expressions partners are committed to continuing to support the Fresh Expressions team beyond the current phase which ends in 2014 – some are already actively making plans and others will do so according to their different schedules for financial planning.

Does fresh expressions stifle diversity because it only appeals to one section of the community? ie. skateboarding, homeless etc.

How do we engage with a mixed demographic of single parent families, commuters, the elderly etc.

Norman Ivison responds: It is very difficul to engage with a diverse group of people, build community and make disciples. Most fresh expressions find it better to focus on one group and work with them and see church form amongst them. That is often called the 'homogeneous unit' principle.

Michael Moynagh has some useful material in his new book Church for every context on this. He argues (page 20) that people-group specific churches existed in the early church. Now he believes we need 'Focused-and-connected church', with some groups serving quite specific constituencies, but always connected to the wider church (Michael Moynagh, Church for every context, SCM, 2012, ch9)

The Guide also contains more about the homogenous unit principle.

Do Street Pastors/Street Angels have any element that could identifiably be fresh expressions?

Graham Cray responds: Street Pastors and Street Angels make a major contribution to the churches’ engagement with local communities. Their work could create the contacts which might lead to a fresh expression. However a fresh expression is always a new congregation or church plant and Street Pastors do not directly evangelise.

Ministry among the deaf is not generally supported by main-stream churches. Where there has been funding it has been reduced or cut completely. Fresh expressions projects are part of a hearing church – do they include deaf people?

Ben Clymo responds: We are aware of some fresh expressions of church working particularly with deaf people. Because of their emphasis on being contextual, fresh expressions of church can often be more attuned to different needs of those they are trying to reach and make appropriate arrangements. Many fresh expressions also make much more use of visual material than some more traditional churches which can also be helpful. We have also had people who are deaf complete our mission shaped ministry course. There is always room to do better though.

How do we develop fresh expressions without contaminating it with 'traditional expressions'? Are there any 'old and new wine' stories?

Graham Cray responds: It is a false antithesis to set 'fresh' and 'traditional' totally against one another. The key issue is appropriateness to context. If the group being reached are mainly dechurched some traditional elements may be right for the fresh expression. Fresh expressions are about contemporary and contextual faithfulness to the Christian tradition. However our imagination can be held captive by certain models of church, hindering our receiving fresh missional imagination from the Spirit. The Guide has more information on the mixed economy.

Pioneers are often very isolated many find support in an informal way though peers and contacts. As fresh expressions develops is there a need for this to be more formalised and developed further? FEASTs exist but in some areas very much suit pioneers connected to the inherited church. Regional Training Partnerships exist – do all pioneers realise this?

Stephen Lindridge responds: Recognising that we are in a developing era, the key to this question is the onus to connect and with all such connections this has to be a two way street. FEAST (Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Teams) is a developing structure which should take initiative to formalise current good practice of informal networks of support for the pioneers but as yet FEAST doesn't cover the whole country. Some Regional Training Partnerships (RTPs) have included fresh expressions with in their remit but others have not. Therefore the challenge for the coming years is to ensure there is easy access for any pioneer to a regional pioneer network in reasonable proximity for the whole country. At present there are a number of individuals who are facilitating something of this ilk in their area or denomination. Ensuring this can be as joined up as possible is part of the Fresh Expressions team's existing priorities. Encouraging good awareness and communication is an essential element and a bespoke work for any FEAST.

If new life comes from the 'edge' of the Church, could you say a bit more about what this means for those of us at the 'middle'? How does the middle relate to the edge? Does the 'middle' have its own sources of life?

Graham Cray responds: The 'edge' and the 'middle' are part of one whole. In Paul's description of the body of Christ they are interdependent, 'members of one another'. Each has insight to give and insight to receive. New life only comes from the edge because the edge is engaging with new contexts, especially given the rapid pace of change in our society.

All Christians, wherever located, draw on the resources of Christ through the Spirit and the means of grace, but missional imagination and new insight come through the challenge of ministry beyond the familiar and the comfortable. Often only there do we truly rely on the Spirit.

The gift of the edge is to stop the middle from absolutising its current experience, and reminding it that it too is contextual. The gift of the middle is rootedness in what has been learned so far, caution about innovation for innovation (rather than context's) sake and the stable base which makes the ministry on the edge possible. Each needs the other.

When are lay leaders going to be authorised/allowed to lead their church in communion? And to baptise? Especially as Bishop Cray said, these are the future leaders of the fresh expression movement.

Graham Cray responds: Each denomination which is a partner in Fresh Expressions has different rules and theologies about who may baptize and preside at Holy Communion. Irrespective of denomination, most mature fresh expressions will have these sacraments as part of their regular life. Those denominations, like the Church of England, which limit this to ordained ministers have a responsibility to ensure that each fresh expression is properly served. In the long run we should expect vocations for ordination from within fresh expressions, as the local 'president' emerges.

In the Methodist Church, Conference this year agreed to allow lay people to be authorised to lead communion where there was a genuine missional need.

How will fresh expressions multiply? As Graham Cray has indicated, there is a need for many, many more fresh expressions, missional communities, simple churches etc. to connect with many millions of people. How will the movement foster multiplication – disciples, making disciples, making disciples? My region (East Anglia) needs thousands of new 'churches' of every kind to spark people into life and make disciples of Jesus. What is the Spirit saying to us about this?

Karen Carter responds: A fresh expression, over time, can all too easily become regularised in the way it does things. It is really important that it should 're-discover' itself and not get set in its ways, to aim for multiplication rather than duplication. Fresh expressions multiply through relationship. If you want to communicate with people outside inherited church, everything that makes up your fresh expression should be relational.

Springfield Church in Wallington, Surrey, did just that and have now seen friendships growing, families joining them for other events, parents getting involved to help and some becoming part of Sunday congregations, cell groups and Alpha courses. As their minister, Will Cookson, says, 'The social events organised by different cell groups look to encourage community and it may take one, two or three years for people to get involved to that level – but that's OK, it all takes time.' Springfield 'multiplied' by planting a café church on the local Roundshaw estate. They sent out 25 people and now average about 40 at the café church. Most of those who have joined come from the estate itself.

The Fresh Expressions movement will foster this sort of multiplication and discipleship through increased opportunities for training; sharing stories of good practice and the encouragement of support networks for those looking to continue to develop new forms of church – in East Anglia and anywhere else the Spirit may lead.