Church Fresh Out of the Box
Despite the fact that most people who attend our churches for worship think that their church is warm, friendly, and inviting, it is quite clear that many of our existing forms of church are unattractive to those who don't currently attend. It is also clear that one of the best strategies for attracting the attention of those who don't currently participate in church is to plant new forms of church or to develop new faith communities. Frost and Hirsch's book The Shaping Of Things To Comeand the work of the Forge Mission Training Network provide insight into this movement in the Australian context.
The Anglican Church in the U.K. has, for the past couple of decades, done some significant work in the area of church planting and fresh expressions of church. At their General Synod in 2004, the Church of England received a report entitled Mission-shaped Church (Church House Publishing 2004). This book presents a comprehensive review of their journey to this point and some salient guidelines about theology, methodology, and frameworks for the future. But the centrepiece of the report is a critical assessment of the variety of fresh expressions of church which have evolved to this point in time illustrated by stories of those who have 'had a go'.
Mission Shaped Church (81 kb PDF)will enable you to read a full summary of this resource. But, to whet your appetite, here are a few of the key things that this report is saying about fresh expressions of church.
Firstly, the report offers the following definitive statements about church planting:
- Church planting is the process by which a seed of the life and message of Jesus embodied by a community of Christians is immersed for mission reasons in a particular cultural or geographic context.
- The intended consequence is that it roots there, coming to life as a new indigenous body of Christian disciples well suited to continue in mission.
- Planting is a process, but unless and until the kingdom and the mission are in the DNA of the seed of the church, what is planted will prove to be sterile. If mission is not located within the identity of church, planting is very unlikely to recover it.
Some of the common features they have discovered of fresh expressions of church are that they:
- recognise the importance of small groups for discipleship and relational mission
- do not necessarily meet on Sunday mornings
- are not restricted by established ecclesial boundaries
- relate to a particular network of people
- are post-denominational; leadership may belong to a particular denomination but membership will have very slim denominational identity/allegiance
- may have connection to more than one support network
However, if these fresh expressions of church are to be missionary churches, they believe that they need to retain these five values:
- focussed on God - worshipping, serving, and sharing in the mission of a missionary God
- incarnational - shaping itself in relation to the culture in which it is locate or to which it is called
- transformational - seeking to transform whatever community,
neighbourhood, or network in which it exists
- makes disciples - calling people to live out a faith in Christ which is often counter-cultural to the world in which they live
- relational - creating a new community of faith which encourages and sustains its members