Margins to mainstream

Phil Potter confesses to a measure of mischief.

I arrived home the other day to find my wife making Christmas puddings with our young grandchildren. Imagine all the gooey sticky ingredients liberally splattered in places other than the mixing bowl and you begin to get the picture. The true picture, however, was expressed by my wife, who jubilantly said, 'this is what family is all about; loads of love and loads of mess!' Immediately of course it was very easy to apply that image to the family of the Church – as well as the wider family of the fresh expressions movement that so many of us have come to love.

'Loads of love and loads of mess' might also have been the subtitle for the Anglican Fresh Expressions Conference we recently held. We deliberately wanted to reflect thankfully on the progress that has been made within our own denomination since the initiative began, whilst engaging intentionally with the complexity (and messiness) of the landscape we have created for ourselves. The institution has long adopted the phrase 'mixed economy' to describe it, and I have to confess to a measure of mischief in choosing the conference title 'Margins to Mainstream'.

In simple terms, the title summarised our hope that the Church has now moved on in its thinking from allowing and encouraging fresh expressions to happen, to more intentionally building strategies that develop and embed them for the long term in a mixed economy of Church. Not surprisingly, however, it also provoked a range of lively responses that summarised many of the issues we now wrestle with, like:

  • The Church should be moving to the margins, not the other way around.
  • Margins are the new mainstream anyway as mainstream becomes more marginal!
  • Who decides which is which anyway? Who holds the power?
  • Where would Jesus be?

As we gathered together, I was more struck than ever that if Jesus wants his Church to reach absolutely all 'by all means', then no wonder he is moving afresh in the hearts of everyone from the bishops to the barely babes in Christ to equip us afresh for the task.

That sentiment was captured powerfully by the very gifted young poet, Harry Baker, who took all the questions, thoughts and responses to the conference title, and led us in the following reflection and blessing:

Margins to Mainstream, Mainstream to Margins

Mainstream to Margins, Margins to Mainstream

Can you hear me?

Lean a little closer.

Let's talk!

Would you like a cup of tea?

We need you and we want you.

Wish you were here!

Margins to Mainstream, Mainstream to Margins

Mainstream to Margins, Margins to Mainstream

I Inhabit both and I don't feel at home in either

One person's margin is another person's mainstream

One person's edge is another person's centre.

Some of us were made to be edge-dwellers

We are all on the margins of something

Let us do our thing

We are so very much more than a label.

There's enough God for everyone

Come inside and learn from previous mistakes.

Come outside and learn from something new.

Margins to Mainstream, Mainstream to Margins

Mainstream to Margins, Margins to Mainstream

May we be open to embrace other people’s margins

May we be open to embrace them into our mainstream

Some of us were made to be edge-dwellers

Some of us are at home in the centre.

Margins to Mainstream, Mainstream to Margins

May we be open to conversation between the two

Thanks Harry. I think this is a great blessing to end 2015 with, and the best possible prayer for the fresh expressions movement in the year ahead.

Constant change is here to stay

Phil Potter explores the constancy of change.

A revised version of my book The Challenge of Change has just been published under the new title of Pioneering a new future.

The world of fresh expressions is all about embracing change and this is an exciting time to be championing and facilitating it in the Church, but I am increasingly aware that even for those of us who consider ourselves to be pioneers in this area, the challenge to change has never been greater.

The scale of change

When the phrase 'mixed economy' was first helpfully introduced, I remember being concerned about the danger of interpreting this as simply an opportunity to add a 'flavour' of fresh expressions into the overall mix when the reality of half the population with no experience of church suggested strongly that the scale of change required was on a far greater scale. I was a parish vicar at the time and we had already begun to pioneer new forms of church but, as we began to see the amazing impact of fresh expressions in the community, we were compelled to create a vision for a mixed economy church that was 50/50 and prune some of our tired ministries that had failed to change in order to release a new future made up of several pioneer plants.

Today, it is a privilege to see some of our institutions genuinely grappling with change and beginning to release their rules and structures to make it happen, but I want us to consider too the sheer scale on which it needs to happen – and happen sooner rather than later.

The scope of change

Studies of successful growing and innovative organisations have shown that they do so because they have looked beyond the immediate vision of the single project that they are working on. They ask what – or who – else needs to be included in the process to ensure both the success of the project itself and its further impact on increasing innovation elsewhere.

Similarly, the Church is learning that innovation in mission is the responsibility of all; not simply those on the front line who are doing the planting. For a fresh expression to thrive, it needs the practical support and advocacy of the local church it is part of, or the blessing of other Christian communities it relates to. On the wider scale, for pioneer ministry to increase across a denomination, there needs to be as much investment in thinking about how we successfully – and increasingly – deploy and support people as to how we select and train them. And, on an even greater scale, we are rightly beginning to ask questions about the scope of change required in our understanding of church membership and belonging.

In a 'pick and mix' world of many networks, the very definition of loyalty and commitment is slowly being reconfigured to allow for the fact that more and more people feel genuinely called to belong to more than one community. Today a Christian may, for instance, be part of an Order or wider missional network whilst still being a loyal member of their local church where their attendance is prayerfully divided between a fresh expression and more traditional congregation. Several years ago this would have been impossible (and may still be frowned upon by some), but a new future calls us to embrace a whole new scope for change.

The speed of change

Every day we are made aware of not only the speed with which our world changes but also how the speed of that change is actually accelerating. In that context, our challenge goes far beyond a willingness to change and now requires the ability to respond and act swiftly as the need arises. Again, at the local level, the Holy Spirit gives us many windows of opportunity for change as we reorder our buildings, re-appoint new leaders and respond to local needs, but the opportunities are time-limited and often need a speedy and courageous response. At the same time, the mission landscape is ever-changing as new housing, new work patterns and new social initiatives change the very shape of our communities. Currently, a great wave of change is sweeping our way as we face the challenge of a compassionate and innovative response to the mass movement of migrants and refugees. If the Church as a whole is rightly being challenged by the sheer scale, scope and speed of what is happening, so too there will be challenges for a movement that wants to champion and pioneer new ways of doing church. 

The challenging 'how to' of change

As we wrestle increasingly with 'shaping change and changing the shape of church', let's as always allow Jesus to have the first and last word. Faced with the need to change people's thinking on a massive scale, he kept his teaching profoundly simple, challenged them with the absolute priority of humility, and used the image of a child to make the point:

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18.3

In a word (Phil Potter)

Phil PotterPhil Potter explores the importance of the words we use.

As I move across churches to encourage, teach and discuss the vision for fresh expressions, I'm increasingly aware of the importance of the words we use and how we use them when describing what we're trying to achieve.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the 500 most used words in the English language each have an average of 23 different meanings. Hardly surprising then that phrases like 'fresh expressions' and 'mixed economy' come to mean very different things to people, depending on their involvement and level of understanding.

The development of anything new will always demand, in time, a new kind of language to clarify it. We need to welcome that new vocabulary, whilst working hard to explain it and, where possible, improve on it. So how are we doing so far?

'Fresh expressions'

When this phrase was first introduced, the broadest interpretation of its meaning was encouraged, so that as many as possible felt able to include themselves in a movement that was seeking to do mission in new ways. As the phrase took hold, however, anything from a full church plant to tea after the service was considered to be a 'fresh expression', and for some this began to devalue the phrase itself. The definition was then helpfully tightened up, emphasising the process from new beginnings to something mature and established. However, I still find that people want to define more clearly exactly where they are in that process, and who still ask the question of their project: 'Is this a fresh expression of church?' The simplest answer may be yes, but how might we extend the vocabulary to reflect the process? 

One way is to break down the three key components of church, namely worship, community and mission, and to identify which of the three is our starting point. A new project, for instance, may simply begin as a fresh expression of community, and may look as though it is a long way from being fully 'church'. Add the other two components, however, and the fully grown 'fresh expression' of church will begin to emerge. On the other hand, a fresh expression may never move beyond the first component, and its value then must be measured in terms of its connection to the wider church.

'Mixed economy'

This phrase has been helpful in communicating the importance of embracing both inherited and emerging models of church. Stand up in front of an ordinary congregation, however, and mention 'mixed economy' and eyes glaze over and ears may become deaf to the vision of a new future for the church. No wonder, then, that for many, 'mixed economy' means a smattering of the new, with 95% of the way we've always done it (hardly a mixed economy!).

Let's ensure that our vocabulary communicates that the church is very much on the move

In my own setting, I was anxious that the whole church should not only understand a 'mixed economy' strategy, but come to embrace it as an exciting and viable vision. Eventually, we developed and adapted the language and imagery of lake and river, emphasising both the contrast and connectedness between the two, and my own church now calls itself 'the Lake and River Church'.

Whatever words we use, let's ensure that our vocabulary communicates that the church is very much on the move and is pioneering a new future!

Prune and prioritise

Phil Potter discusses making space for new things.

A group of people were preparing for an ascent to the top of Mont Blanc in the French Alps, and were told to leave behind all unnecessary equipment as it was an arduous and difficult climb. A young Englishman disagreed and went ahead of the group carrying his usual very heavy load. The rest of the group followed and on the climb noticed certain things that someone had left along the way… a blanket, some large blocks of cheese, a bottle of wine and several heavy pieces of camera equipment. When they reached the summit, they discovered their now wiser companion who had decided (the hard way) to jettison everything unnecessary!

One thing I am noticing increasingly as the Church continues its ascent towards becoming more effectively mission-shaped is that pioneer leaders at every level are grappling with what it means to prune and prioritise. We are recognising (sometimes the hard way) that we cannot introduce and pioneer new ways of working without first of all dealing with the way we work now. Let me give you one or two examples.

In the Church of England, the eight bishops' staff teams who have attended an Inter Diocesan Learning Community over the past three years have all now made significant moves to make regular space in their crowded agendas for serious reflective thinking and decision making on the ways in which they will increasingly learn how to innovate for the future. They have recognised that unless they own that as a priority, the urgency of the day-to-day business will always extinguish their genuine desire to keep looking forward and think more radically.

In the Missional Leaders' Community that I created for lay pioneers, we recognised that every good intention to make this a source of support and refreshment would be seriously undermined if we simply added another meeting to all of the other demands faced by these leaders on a daily basis; not least in their local church. We decided from the beginning, then, to enable them to prune their commitment to other things, and deliberately decided to gather once a month on a Sunday morning or afternoon. In doing this we negotiated with their church leaders to release them from their usual commitment to church attendance on those days, and we were grateful to those who gave their blessing for graciously realising that some of their best leaders needed a Sabbath too, and would never get it without some innovative pruning and prioritising.

In fresh expressions of church that first set out with a monthly rhythm of meeting, many are wisely not assuming that growing into maturity is about turning the monthly gathering into a weekly one. Instead of trying to repeat and clone what is already happening, they are seeing the four weeks of a standard month as an opportunity to offer people a varying diet. They may, for instance, gather for collective community and worship twice a month, but on the other weeks introduce discipleship groups or social events… in other words they don't assume the old paradigm of 'service every Sunday' and extras if you're really committed!

Finally, as a team and organisation, Fresh Expressions has now entered a period of 'pruning and prioritising' as we continue to wrestle with how we can best serve the Church as the fresh expressions story transitions from 'initiative to movement'. The list of possible priorities is huge and the challenge at times daunting, but a generous and faithful God has already multiplied the available resources way beyond a single team and we are so thankful for our 'associate' friends in every sense.

Please pray for us then as we increasingly seek in our role to catalyze, encourage and connect the many thousands of us who are working in different and dynamic ways to champion fresh expressions of church. The pruning and prioritising is bearing fruit.

Becoming a network of networks

A body of many parts

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its parts form one body, so it is with Christ… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Taking Fresh Expressions forward Download

Taking Fresh Expressions forward

Find out about our current five areas of focus and our key new projects going forward.

You can view a video summary of this article below.

I have always marvelled at the multiple expressions of Church to be found within the body of Christ, and it was one of the things I loved most about leading and pastoring a local church. As the body of Christ grew and multiplied into a variety of congregations, I would often find myself making four changes of clothing on a Sunday to adapt to the particular style and tradition of each worshipping community! Of course, there came a point – after we had planted seven very different fresh expressions of church – when I needed to surrender to the fact that the vicar alone couldn’t possibly adapt to the culture of each and every one. My role then was to keep a diverse church connected, where the different communities could learn from each other, celebrate their stories together and be mutually supportive.

An organisation of many partners

Over the past nine months, becoming team leader of Fresh Expressions has meant embracing that challenge all over again, but on a vast scale. The landscape that has evolved over the decade since this initiative started is huge, with many different faces (denominations, streams, agencies, colleges and local communities), often within strikingly different cultures, encompassing several layers of experience and understanding, and each with a language and vocabulary of their very own.

On one level, none of this has changed our main purpose as an organisation:

Fresh Expressions seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church.

On another level however, everything has changed, and the organisation that once existed as a single sponsored initiative is now in the position of supporting and championing a movement of many parts and networks.

As a result, the emphasis of our role has shifted too. Whilst still being committed to 'renewing vision, gathering news, supporting growth and developing training', the task of communicating and convincing has now been overtaken by the challenge of connecting. As more have joined the partnership, the movement as a whole can increasingly offer multiple ways of renewing vision, gathering news, supporting growth and developing training, and we at Fresh Expressions want to celebrate and facilitate that in a new season.

A network of networks?

In On the verge, Alan Hirsch talks about eight 'movement rules' and highlights the 'network rule' in particular. He writes:

Of all the movement rules, the network rule is the one most often overlooked. When we look at a movement, we're often enamoured by the mass of its size and intrigued by the smallness of its parts, but we miss that what is actually holding it together is an infrastructure of networks.

Of course, we can put ourselves on dangerous ground when we try to put the phrase 'infrastructure of networks' alongside the word 'movement', and Hirsch himself talks about the difficulties in enabling an organic 'all channel network' to thrive. At the same time, however, movements are partly catalysed by the quality of communication and connection between their many parts, and Fresh Expressions has been privileged to play an increasing role in enabling that, to support – if you like – the emergence of a 'network of networks'.

A fresh path for Fresh Expressions

How then, might we draw a picture of Fresh Expressions to describe our future role? Returning to the body image, I think increasingly we would want to see our partnership as the skeleton on which an 'infrastructure of networks' can thrive and multiply, each made up of many parts, but joined together in a common vision. To that, we are now adding the joints and muscle of five major areas of focus:

  • inspiring vision;
  • networking strategically;
  • connecting geographically;
  • supporting practitioners;
  • resourcing learning.

We are then adding the flesh of several major projects, all designed to connect the movement's many parts through the DNA of promoting best practice, providing effective support and creating genuine partnerships wherever we can. We invite you to read about these in the attached document and to 'watch this space' as we develop the vision of becoming a network of networks.

Above all, though, we invite you to continue with us on this wonderfully complex journey of which 'each one of you is a part'.

Taking Fresh Expressions forward

Seeing the Invisible

Phil Potter explores 'the art of seeing things invisible'.

Recently, I had the privilege of taking part in the bicentenary celebrations of the Christian gospel in Aotearoa New Zealand.

On the anniversary of Rev Samuel Marsden's arrival there 200 years ago, hundreds of Christian leaders congregated on the beach where he first preached – at Oihi in the Bay of Islands – to celebrate the milestone. They had kindly invited me, as a latter day 'Pioneer Anglican Canon', to bring an appropriate message, saying, 'Essentially, we're asking you to get inside the head of this English missionary. What were his hopes and expectations?'

As I began to delve into the story and the character of Marsden, the familiar traits of a true pioneer emerged, especially the ability to see beyond the present with the eye of faith. Two quotes came to mind: 'Vision', said satirist Jonathan Swift, 'is the art of seeing things invisible' while author Frank Gaines adds: 'Only those who see the invisible can do the impossible'. Every great pioneer, of course, has a tendency to attempt the impossible, a trait summed up succinctly by Hudson Taylor when he said: 'There are three stages in any work for God: impossible, difficult, done!'

So when Samuel Marsden stepped ashore to attempt the impossible, he saw with the eye of faith what God was able to do with a whole nation of non believers over a period of time. He saw for instance what he called a 'superior and civilised people' where others saw only slaves and savages; he saw a nation of converts where others only saw an area inhabited by cannibals. In short, he saw what time can change, what people can become, and what the future can hold beyond our own small horizons. And, although it took another 20 years for Marsden's vision to really take hold, when Bishop Selwyn arrived in New Zealand three years after Marsden's death, he wrote: 'We see here a whole nation of pagans converted to the faith. Thousands upon thousands of people, young and old, have received new hearts, and are valuing the Word of God above every other gift.'

Ten years ago, few people perhaps would have predicted the growth in breadth and depth of the Fresh Expressions initiative, that so many diverse plants would have emerged and so much learned about how to engage in new and helpful ways with the many in our society who have had no experience of church. And few of us would have predicted the variety of partner denominations involved or the sheer scale of international interest. Like every pioneer movement, however, there were those who prayerfully saw 'things invisible', and it is inspiring to see how many more are now learning the “art” as we plan ahead for the next ten years. Coming into 2015, we will see a whole raft of new projects designed to further the vision of taking the 'impossible' through the stages of 'difficult but doable' then 'done'.

Of course the pioneer journey itself is always fraught with difficulties and scepticism along the way, and it will often feel fragile and daunting, even dangerous to some. Recently we have seen this tragically illustrated in the Virgin Galactic crash, and there has been a great deal of debate and comment as a result. One of the big questions about its future is whether the project can survive the relentless scrutiny of inspectors and government intervention, and yet one article pertinently reminded us that the first powered aircraft flight was in fact the work of a pair of brothers with a bicycle shop, Orville and Wilbur Wright, who succeeded in 1903 where many other professional and government endeavors had failed. In that spirit, and in the evidence we have seen of the imagination, investment and passion of 'ordinary' Christians in furthering the fresh expressions movement, my belief is that they will be the ones who will take us further and deeper into a whole new future for the church.

Canon Samuel Marsden had the humility to see a nation that would be evangelized by the Maori population themselves, and my prayer is that those of us privileged to be leaders in the church in different ways will share the same humility and faith in seeing where, and with whom our future truly lies.

Joining the strands

Phil Potter reflects on the strands of partnership.

"A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped"

(Ecclesiastes 4.12, The Message)

I recently made a rope swing for my young grandsons in our garden. Having heard that one of them had fallen from a very thin and dodgy one not too long previously, I was careful to find a strong 'three-stranded' rope that was guaranteed for grandfather use as well!

The principle of 'better together' is of course a simple one, so it's rather sad that the Christian Church has often had a history of making heavy weather of all things ecumenical. That is why when Archbishop Justin says that he believes Fresh Expressions to be one of the most exciting ecumenical initiatives around today, I am determined that we should do everything we can to justify such an accolade, and to make sure that we don't end up snapping or falling from the rope.

It is interesting that, as well as the biblical imperative for partnership, the secular world is also increasingly emphasizing the importance of partnership in our globalised 21st century society. In his book The Wide Lens – A New Strategy for Innovation, Ron Adner shows how some of the most innovative developments of this century have only come to fruition through a major focus on partnership and collaboration between major players. He tells the story of Apple for instance; explaining that whilst other mobile phone companies were simply trying to design better phones, Apple were collaborating with the makers and retailers of music to design a truly innovative iPhone that could do far 'smarter' things. Similarly, Amazon cornered the e-reader market by partnering with authors, publishers and retailers to create a revolutionary product in the Kindle. Many other companies meanwhile are still embracing mediocrity or failure, simply because their focus is very narrow and centred solely on what they themselves can produce.

On a personal level, my own journey into pioneering and innovating in mission has illustrated both the biblical and the latest business insights (though I lay far more trust in the former!). In planning major pioneer projects, I learned the importance of partnering as widely and freely as possibly. So when planning to plant a fresh expression of church into a town centre, there was collaboration and partnership in many directions. We began by asking what the surrounding local churches could themselves bring to the vision, then we found a larger resource church (outside the area) that could provide a significantly sized team. Human resources were then added from the central Church Growth Team, finances negotiated creatively with the Diocesan finance department, and a pioneer minister added to the mix. The missional partnership continued as the plant created formal partnerships with the local school, the college, the town centre management – and finally a shopping arcade where the church community was to be housed.

Whatever else Fresh Expressions is, it is first and foremost a partnership of pioneer networks, of denominations, streams and agencies which together are committed to planting and multiplying new forms of church in a mixed economy of Church. Our challenge is to keep that focus clear, to keep innovating how partnership works across a growing movement, and to keep our hearts open to genuine partnership and collaboration on a very wide scale. In that spirit, I commend this month not only our latest video sharing the Church of England Missioners' stories from various dioceses but also the video sharing the latest developments in pioneer training at CMS. I hope you will continue to help us to become increasingly effective partners in the gospel in the days ahead.

Phil Potter

How do we tackle the challenge of Methodist decline?

Phil Potter asks how we respond to the latest Methodist statistics for mission.

So, we all know that the latest Methodist Statistics for Mission are 'challenging' to say the least but what is the way forward? In just 22 pages, the report catalogues the loss of 100,000 members over 10 years. BUT, is that a sign for all Methodists to lie down in a darkened room and give up? I don't think so.

The statistics also show how three quarters of all Methodist work with groups and outreach happens through the week, with over 483,000 people involved in one way or another. To me, that reflects the changing face of church in today's society.

As Martyn Atkins said, in his General Secretary's report to Conference, the lessons from the statistics must be learned but there is

a growing desire to reclaim evangelism as a crucial part of God’s mission, as the main thing.

The recent commissioning of New Song Network Church in Warrington as the newest church in Methodism is evidence of that desire becoming a reality but how will New Song become just the first in a long line of new churches?

In looking at overarching practice in Methodism, I'd suggest three main things:

  • every Circuit to have at least one half-time post developing new forms of church. Don't worry about what 'sort' of church is being encouraged by the Holy Spirit; look instead at their intention; what do they intend to do to reach the people who wouldn't otherwise be reached with the Good News? There is a real window of opportunity to respond to the missional challenges all around us; that's why every Circuit needs to have a designated person to explore and encourage and help to source funding for fresh expressions.
  • develop pathways for lay people to lead churches.The Church Army's Research Unit report, From Anecdote to Evidence – which looked at fresh expressions in ten Church of England Dioceses – highlighted the increasing importance, relevance and role of lay people in leading new forms of church. Identify them, support them, give them the backing to develop the ministry that God has given them.
  • conduct an urgent review of present leadership structures and make it a matter of policy to increasingly partner with Christians of other denominations and streams. Working alongside Christians from all traditions and denominations has been at the heart of Fresh Expressions since it first saw the light of day in 2004. The value of that has become all too clear with hundreds of new churches being formed which, in turn reach thousands of people – many of whom have never been anywhere near a Christian community before. That has only been possible through working together.

In all of these things, difficult resourcing decisions need to be made – but is it important for God's people called Methodists, for all of us, to prop up the present or invest in the future?

Celebrating the mixed economy Church at Pentecost (Phil Potter)

Phil Potter celebrates the mixed economy church.

The Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Congregational Federation in Bristol, the Methodist Church in Birmingham, the United Reformed Church in Cardiff and the Church of England in York… the season of synods and assemblies has begun, and a great opportunity to check in with our partner denominations and feel the pulse of the Church.

As usual, many things are on the agenda and the challenges increase, but in every case I'm finding that the missionary arm of the Church is in good heart and good form, and that the fresh expressions agenda is breathing ever new life into the institutions we love.

Of course, the very concept of a 'mixed economy' of Church brings with it its own tensions, but the Church is at its very best when it celebrates its diversity, works on its unity and learns to partner in creative and generous ways. Mixed economy was never meant to mean 'either or' thinking where Christians make black and white choices, either to commit to traditional Church and all things familiar, or to new ways of doing Church and all things pioneer. On the contrary, the vision for a mixed economy is about the whole Church embracing 'both and' thinking, and wherever God may call us to serve and belong on a personal and practical level, we should all embrace the need for a rich variety of approaches to evangelism, worship and the challenge of making disciples in the twenty first century.

I know from my own experience that the church I was vicar of was at its most vibrant and effective when it was equally committed to and energized by what we creatively nicknamed 'the lake' (traditional attractional church) and 'the river' (flowing out into fresh expressions of church in very different contexts). Indeed, the recent research on fresh expressions in ten different Church of England dioceses confirms that the majority are being envisioned and created out of established local church contexts, and that even churches with very limited resources are discovering new life and energy as they find the courage to plant the tiniest seed of a new kind of church.

However we look at this, the acid test for me is in how un-churched people respond to all that we offer them. Again in my own context we found that again and again the Holy Spirit would confound our expectations of how a person seeking faith responded to 'doing church'. We committed ourselves to planting a whole range of fresh expressions to reach the thousands in our community who had never experienced church, and we convinced ourselves at first that the people who might respond to a fresh expression were the sort of people who would never darken the door of our church building. How wrong could we be! So many of those who came to faith began to put together the richest of diets when it came to belonging. Yes some remained in a single expression or congregation, but most ended up blending their experience of church and worship, and some who belonged to the most radical of fresh expressions might also turn up at the traditional Eucharist once a month! As they started to vote with their feet, they began to model mixed economy for us in the most creative of ways.

Writing this on Pentecost Sunday, I'm reminded that we serve a 'mixed economy' God, who deliberately created a Church of rich diversity and variety, and as the wind of his Spirit 'blows where it wills', let's learn to celebrate the way in which he is creating many different kinds of fresh expressions alongside inherited expressions, across several different traditions and within a colourful array of different denominations. And most of all, may we never lose sight of the fact that the God of Pentecost not only enables people to hear and receive in 'their own language', but draws them together in unity in a way that then draws many others to be 'added to their number'.

Phil Potter