Offer a fresh expression approach to online ministry (Pam Smith)

Pam SmithPam Smith offers a fresh expression approach to online ministry.

When I was on a training course recently, several people asked me about creating an online presence for their churches. There are many static websites out there, but churches are now looking at ways of using the internet more interactively as part of their outreach strategy.

Interactive church websites offer a fantastic opportunity to extend fellowship and discipleship opportunities into digital space. It seems odd, though, to focus our online outreach on bringing people to the virtual equivalent of a church building. Anyone who is considering an online evangelism strategy should consider following the fresh expressions methodology of taking church to where people are.

How Christians behave online is even less talked about than what we do at work, but in fact Christians are as active as their non-Christian peers in social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, special interest forums, gaming sites and blogs. The potential for missional activity is huge as we are already in contact with non-Christians online.

The internet has been likened to a fast flowing river. It changes so rapidly that it's hard to grasp what's going on by looking at it from a distance, but jumping in can look risky. Rather than treating 'the internet' as a place and the people who work 'on the internet' as experts to be copied, we need to identify the principles involved in online ministry and encourage people to apply them to their own particular online environment. In fact, we need to apply a fresh expressions methodology.

We need to apply a fresh expressions methodology to online ministry

It is arguable that online ministries offer a perfect environment to see what happens when a fresh expression develops into a contextual maturity away from the pressure to become more recognisably 'church' that many maturing fresh expressions may feel.

Online ministry offers a huge potential for outreach and mission. There is vibrant growth and potential but there is little understanding of the field outside those who are already involved. We need to pay attention to the significance of online relationships in people's lives and how we might connect with them as part of the bigger missional picture, rather than writing online ministry off as 'not proper church'.

Knocking down and building up (Pam Smith)

Pam SmithPam Smith explores knocking down and building up.

As an icon of ministry, I think Nehemiah takes some beating. He motivated his team and got the job done in the face of discouragement and sabotage, showing how much you can achieve if you stick to the task God has given you.

People involved in fresh expressions often feel discouraged by the reaction of other Christians. This can range from a lack of interest to outright hostility.

But I've noticed recently that even among people involved in alternative forms of church there seems to be a competitive edge, with casually disparaging comments being made about other people's ministries.

It's human nature, of course, to put people down, on the basis that 'S/he must become smaller so I may be greater' – but aren't Christians meant to march to a different beat?

I wonder if this has something to do with the way it's become acceptable in the last few years for people who don't like Christianity to treat it with contempt rather than engage in proper debate. Is this undermining our confidence in ourselves, so that we end up trying to make ourselves feel better by pointing out each other's inadequacies?

I think mission can be summarised in three instructions Jesus gave his followers:

  • Go make disciples
  • Feed my sheep
  • Love one another

I don't believe that any one of these can happen in isolation from the others.

Loving one another will at times involve offering criticism, but always constructively, in a way that builds up. Knocking things down is hard work, but building them up again once they've been knocked down is even harder.

Ask Nehemiah!

Feed my sheep (Pam Smith)

Pam SmithPam Smith asks what Jesus meant when he said 'Feed my sheep'.

When our grown up sons come home, we always have a takeaway. It's shorthand for a lot of things – this is still your home, you're special, I am still part of this family, being together is worth celebrating.

Jesus told Peter to 'feed my sheep'. He fed the multitudes; he was known to the disciples he met on the road to Emmaus in the breaking of the bread. On the night before he died, he had supper with his friends and said 'do this, in remembrance of me'. And when he met with his friends on the beach after his resurrection, he fed them.

When I became a Christian, I didn't take communion because I wasn't confirmed. Week after week, I longed to receive but had to hold back.

During a very rare communion service in a young offenders institution, one of the 'lads' asked what was happening. Then he jumped up, muttered 'I want some of that!' and joined the queue. The next week he asked to be baptised.

I asked a group of three boys under the age of seven why they wanted to take communion. They heard the priest say, week in week out,  'Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread' – and then weren't given any bread. They deeply desired to be part of the body.

At the recent pioneer minister conference at Ridley Hall, it was stated that a fresh expression should be working towards regular communion services because this was a mark of 'being church'.

Many of us were left with questions.

Should the Eucharist be seen as a target? Where does lay leadership fit in? Does the Eucharist create a Christ-centred community? Or is a Christ-centred community, by definition, Eucharistic? What does a fresh expression of the Eucharist look like? And if we're not church – what are we?