Guy starts dance party (Stephen Lindridge)

Stephen LindridgeStephen Lindridge watches a guy starting a dance party.

Jesus used stories to get across what he was trying to teach and to tell people, and I came across a contemporary story just very recently. Somebody sent me a clip from YouTube of a guy dancing at the Sasquatch music festival near Seattle this year. He was going out there, giving it large and dancing, throwing his arms out in crazy moves. And the crowd are looking at him as though he's a little bit weird and little bit strange, and he does look funny and he does look weird compared to everyone sat there calmly on the grass, enjoying themselves.

But then within a couple of minutes another guy comes and joins him, dancing in an equally extravagant way with happy bizarre moves. Then there's a third guy about 30 seconds later that joins them, followed shortly by a small group who all start to join this little dance party. What follows is just amazing. Within seconds people start running from all over this field to come and join in. The people who had calmly sat near this guy are now either having to get up and join in, or move further and further back as the crowd now rapidly expand the dance party.

I couldn't  help but think this was a great allegory of what has happened over the last few years in fresh expressions and those pioneering new ministries amongst communities with no connection with church or the good news about Jesus.

The lone dancer, the guy with the passion, gets up and starts to do a new thing. We might look at the Christian pioneer  the same way – what she or he is doing doesn't look familiar. We may even ask the question: 'Is this church at all because it looks so different?' It may seem a bit lonely, but they're the one with the energy and enthusiasm to begin.

However, the pioneer isn't the bravest person. It's the one who's first to get up and decides to join them, willing to look foolish too, risking the stares and comments of the crowd – it's this person who offers the real sacrifice in coming to join in. But it's because of their bravery that someone else decides to come, then another and another. And before you know it, the tables have been turned and now it's who's not joining that's looking weird.

In the past few years, since I believe the mid-'90s, God's Spirit has been inspiring many individuals to begin new odd looking missional works that don't look like the church I grew up in. But little by little, others have started to see what God's been doing, been encouraged and got excited by it and have come to join in.

Now there are literally hundreds of people across the country who have witnessed some element of God's party of new works, think it's fantastic and are joining in. Unique styles, projects, churches month by month. It is almost impossible to keep up.

The resounding note around this is: the song which the guy is dancing to is called 'Unstoppable'. For me, the work of the Holy Spirit and what God is doing across this land is unstoppable. God wants to reach this time and generation with the good news of Jesus and is finding creative ways in which to inspire us to get off our backsides, as it were, and join in the party.

Jesus said many things to those who listened. Two things I'll leave you to ponder about this YouTube video. The first is: Jesus said, 'I will be with you always'. When we begin a pioneering work or fresh expression of church, it may seem something strange or unfamiliar, but we're not doing it alone – we're to join in what God's already doing.

Secondly, in Matthew 13, Jesus talks about how small the mustard seed is when it's sown, and yet how large it can become. God's work in you and through you may be so small from your perspective, but never doubt what God can grow it into.

Join in the dance. Join in God's party.

Mind your language!

Stephen Lindridge warns us to mind our language.

Digging into wide-ranging research from the last few decades to look at how people are coming to faith in Jesus in fresh expressions of church, it has become clear to me that it's important to understand an individual's previous background influences.

Though most people encountered have had little or no previous involvement with any form of church, that doesn't mean their spiritual radar is not switched on. Nor does it mean that they are antagonistic or not interested in spiritual dynamics that will help them in life.

A woman quoted in one such piece of research reflects this desire for 'something more'; a paraphrase of her comments read,

I want to believe there's something after death, a place of comfort and someone loving to meet me there. I hope there's something out there that hears my prayers uttered on the wind and in some way will help me…

She may well have been the type of person to run a mile at any mention of Christian language but, whatever her background, her words could similarly be those of many people born and raised in a Britain which still has much of its cultural and judicial system based on Christian morals and ethics.

Though fewer people seem to be engaging with the established denominations (especially outside of London) it is clear from decades of recent research that their spiritual hunger is not any the less vibrant. David Hay makes the comment in his book Why Spirituality is Difficult for Westerners, (Societas, 2007),

Critics of religion say we are born little atheists and in the process of being socialised we acquire a set of religious beliefs. I say the evidence points almost in exactly the opposite direction.

Abbey Day's social anthropological research into 'Believing in Belonging' – though not exclusive or exhaustive – reframes religious belief in a seven part heuristic of: content, sources, practice, salience, function, place and time. All this arising from inductive empirical research conducted initially in the UK and then expanded for cross-cultural comparisons. This work ostensibly lays the foundation for exploring the question 'is anyone in the British context not de-churched, to some degree?' David Hay sees 'nominalism' as far from an empty category but loaded with cultural meaning towards Christianity in the European and American contexts.

Thousands of fresh expressions of church all across these islands have just begun to connect and reconnect with some of this latent 'nominalism', but we should be far from complacent about how much has already been achieved. So, if we in Christian ministry take this very seriously, it means 'what we do and how we do it' matters a great deal. Sharing the Good News of God's love come to us in Jesus, in ways and language that are apt for our time and place is an opportunity not to be squandered.

Christmas is coming and, with it, many opportunities – including HOPE's Silent Night Carols initiative in sports stadia across the country as well as traditional carol singing in pubs or shopping centres. Whatever we do, let's think about our words during the Christmas season; will they resonate and connect with those not used to church language? In what ways can we say 'God loves you' so that it makes sense to those of our time and place? What can we do that sparks their intrigue so that they might ask, 'Who is this Jesus that you want to live and give, act, and follow his way?'

What's right in your place and time, among those God is reaching out to? Find the salient things that will have a resonance for them; the things that will chime with what's happening in their lives; the things will help draw them closer to Christ at Christmas – and forever.

A ‘New Song’ for a new church (Stephen Lindridge)

Stephen Lindridge sings a 'New Song' for a new church.

The Psalms inspire us as God's people to 'sing a new song' to our Lord, for the marvellous things he has done (Psalm 98.1). So it's very apt that the newest church to be recognised in the Methodist Church of Great Britain is forged on exactly this principle; to sing new songs to our Lord!

But New Song Network, based in Warrington, involves a great deal more than singing. It has created community and brought loving service, gospel proclamation and transformational discipleship to people previously unconnected in any way with church.

To me, this strikes three chords for the wider church's learning and encouragement – bearing in mind that a chord is a number of notes played at the same time.

New Song is not a 'one-trick pony'.

It is a network of relationships, doing a multiplicity of things that are seeking to live with meaning and purpose in the broader community in which they are based. So, learning how usefully to collaborate our resources, actions and activities over an area may lead to increasing our understanding of what it is to be the church.

In a general climate of decline (for the institutional churches), new life is happening.

Yes, in some places it's in tiny pockets but in other places the growth is substantial. This is a hugely significant message that swims against the tide of pessimism about the church in the UK. The rich and profound message of God's love in Jesus Christ is indeed still relevant in our culture, time and place and – when actively practiced in words and deeds that make sense to those around us – it changes lives.

Sadly, I have sometimes found this negative tide within the walls of our denominations. It is hard to understand how such good news can sometimes be received so badly, and with such opposition, from within the church.

Into these challenges we recall Jesus' words in John 15.18; the regular accounts of opposition to the early church in Acts of the Apostles; and modern-day stories of Christian persecution around the world – persecution which goes far beyond angry words. We should give thanks to God for such faithful witness and pray that we, too, will show God's grace to those who seem to hate us.

New Song re-imagines the old to bring new life.

'Something old something new, something borrowed, something blue' is a phrase that usually symbolizes the joining of two worlds into one. New Song Network for me demonstrates the long-espoused values of the Methodist Church so similar to those of Wesley's day, namely participation of every person, singing our faith with the tunes of the day, helping those in need and forming rich fellowship through small groups. This ethos has found new life in a contemporary form at New Song Network and the result is seen in lives transformed by the gospel of Christ.

I believe the voyage of discovery for many of us involves exploring what God is doing in our own neighbourhoods as our familiar, much-loved, values find new ground and new contexts in fresh expressions of church. Thank God for New Song Network as the newest church in Methodism, but the big question is, where will the next one be?!

Relic of the past or renewal for the future – what is church?

Stephen Lindridge, Fresh Expressions Connexional Missioner for the Methodist Church, asks whether church is a relic of the past or renewal for the future.

What do we really mean by church? Is it something with a spire or a tower or a font – a place for those all-important hatches, matches and dispatches of baptisms, weddings and funerals? I recently came across two very different interpretations.

A snowy day in Newcastle and I was teaching on the Fresh Expressions mission shaped ministry course where we were looking at 'what is Church?' Cue 20 Christians, from differing backgrounds and traditions, getting very excited about the nature and relationships that form the backdrop to this word church.

Twenty four hours later and a BBC news report from the Middlesbrough area told of how a 900-year-old church building – once vandalized and almost destroyed – had been moved brick by brick and rebuilt in the Beamish Museum, adding to their 'growing collection of historic buildings of the past'.

I must admit to feeling demoralised to hear, in this news bulletin at least, that 'church' very much equals 'building'; all the more so as I had witnessed something very different in the name of church just a day earlier. This was compounded by the fact that, for years, I have taught passionately that church – in its essence – is made up of three things:

  • people – important because 'we don't do it on our own';
  • focused on God – the Divine Trinity;
  • purpose – a rhythm of mission and worship.

As a result, two things struck me as if for the first time:

  • our western culture has placed its own meaning and understanding on the word church;
  • the meaning of that word can be understood in a positive or negative way and that understanding has a profound impact on those seeking to engage in relevant mission with contemporary society.


Church is a place where people gather to help each other learn more about living their lives like Jesus. They pray, worship, share, care and encourage one-another in their respective outward mission. Living everyday life in a way that more people would come to know the remarkable and transforming love of God in Christ.

This is something that certainly came true for Matt, who attends the Café Lite fresh expression of church in Droxford village hall, Hampshire. He says,

I have spent many adult years in prison and a lot of years on class A drugs but I have been clean for a year in recovery. I go to Café Lite because I find it an enjoyable time which helps me interact with people I don't usually interact with. I find it inspiring; people are so happy there and show me that a clean life is possible.

There are countless others with similar transformational stories, including Star – baptised and confirmed at the Upper Room community, Cirencester:

I can't connect easily with people in church; there's no space. Here there is space to be real, and to pour your heart out if you need to. It feels like home. It's a place that brings church and community together.

Linda of New Song Network, Warrington, adds,

New Song is my oasis. It is my time to worship God in a way that draws me closer. It's the natural, relaxed, non-threatening, welcoming, Jesus-filled night of my month and it has helped me to deepen my faith and serve others.

These fresh expressions of church often find homes in cafés, pubs, schools or in the workplace. Some meet in traditional church buildings but most do not resemble what would have been familiar to the Beamish museum piece of a church – though they are, most definitely, church.


A great deal of research has gone into why nearly all the main denominations in Britain are declining rapidly and have been for the last 60 years. The research has given us a new piece of jargon, 'the de-churched' – people who once went to church but don't go any more. Some have left for inert reasons; moving job or home and getting out of the habit of going or not having time to find a new church in a busy life, etc.

However more than 50% of those researched all left for very negative reasons, from the trivial – a disagreement over what colour the woodwork was to be repainted – I kid you not – to the very serious in nature. This may have involved hurt and fall-out from the classic sins around money, sex and power. These abuses, in all their forms, irrevocably damage peoples' relationships with each other and consequently, often their faith in God.

Between these positive and negative ends of the spectrum are the very reasonable responses that the church leadership or the loudest voices will not respond to the growing needs of our time and change to meet such needs. Therefore people leave to find a community of Christians which is looking to do what it says on the tin, namely 'make disciples of Christ' instead of 'this pleases us, therefore it stays as it is'.

Bishop Graham Cray, leader of the Fresh Expressions team, often quotes an Australian bishop who says, 'more of the same means less of the same'. So why is that?

Jesus said he would build his church and, in the Acts of the Apostles (2:47), we read – as those first believers started to gather in Resurrection hope and the Spirit's power – that it was God who added to their number daily. Many would ask, then why isn't God growing his church today? Well, some would say that he is. Newer churches in Britain are experiencing that growth in size with the worldwide church in Africa, South America and Asia seeing amazing things as God helps them to draw many people into faith.

It's not a picture that could be used to describe many Methodist or Anglican churches in Britain. Surely it can't be that they are such bad wicked places, full of judgement and holier-than-thou attitudes? Speaking as someone who has visited more than their fair share of churches down the years, no they are not bad. On the whole they are full of lovely, well-meaning people who are doing the best with what they have been brought up to believe that church is what you do on Sunday to help you through the week.

We've all heard of that weekly pattern which, in some cases, is generations old. It's along the lines of, 'Turn up, sing up, pay up, shut up (during the sermon) and go home, knowing only a handful of names of the people sitting anywhere near you'.

The New Testament view seems a little different.

Consider for a moment the picture in Acts. We see on many occasions the community of believers responding to those who are in need. How did they know they were in need? Maybe those in need asked for help? The broader picture shows that the believers were all together and devoted to specific things, like 'the fellowship'.

This 'fellowship' is much stronger a word than the one we tend to bandy around when describing a general gathering at church, such as 'the men's or women's fellowship'. This is a word which many seem like a stranger in our culture; the word embodies commitment.

These earlier disciples were so committed to each other that they would give up 'stuff' and sell it to help the next person. They wanted to meet with each other on a daily basis; sharing food, praying together and learning more about Jesus.

These days, when we go somewhere different and try to establish new relationships, meeting people over food is still one of the best ways to get to know one another. Breaking down the barriers and getting to know more than someone's name is a basic human social skill in forming rich community – the sort of community that's a good place in which we can thrive.

If we proclaim the message, 'we are made in God’s image', the very essence of that is community. The Godhead three in one and one in three, the blessed Trinity is the source of relationship, love and community; we are made as social beings to dwell in community.

The sad reality is many people may be part of a crowd but no one knows their name or misses them if they disappear from sight. How many so-called 'churches' are like this? We go in anonymous to most of the others present and come out as unknown as we went in. The pains or joys of the past or coming week are untouched, not shared or prayed for by the wider group gathered on Sundays.

Ask yourself, how many people do you know by name at your church? How many don't you know? If we are not aware of people's names how are we going to pretend that we are building community?

Why does that matter? Look to verse 47 of Acts Chapter 2 for an answer.

Daily God added to their number… those who were being saved

Who added? Peter's preaching? The kindness of the disciples? Their organizational skills? No! The Lord added. We have preached and teached for hundreds of years that faith is God's gift to give by grace.

How can we envisage God gifting anyone new to faith into a place were they cannot grow and be nurtured into maturity? Here are four things that are key for the healthy, whole life of the community of believers – and newcomers to that community:

  • learning practically about Jesus and all he taught, in ways that are relevant in today's cultures;
  • being part of a nurturing community that is committed enough to know so much more than your name. A place to be part of and contribute to;
  • eating together, share meals regularly, build the opportunities for deepening discipleship, the substance for encouraging a rhythm of mission and worship;
  • praying together, cutting through all difference and minister to each other, the source of equipping for daily life.

Why are we in decline? Is it because most of the things we call church are not church at all? Over the years the building has taken on a name but the values that earn the title are sadly missing.

Why did 59% of the British population self-select Christian in the recent census yet less than 8% regular attend (at least monthly) something called church? Is it the 51% don't find what they are looking for?

What a task is before us. We need to encourage the church to be the church – not just in name (i.e. the gathered) but also in values, vision and purpose. Imagine…what if church existed in a 1000 more varieties than it currently does? What if we could find ways of creating the kind of communities in which those who called themselves Christian in the census would want to belong to and be an active, committed participant of? What if these communities of all sizes start doing the Acts stuff because they know and care for those about them? What if that really makes a difference and provides the Lord with a place to plant new believers?

Will that mean the word 'church' starts to signify something a little different than a building in a museum?