I’ve just started reading Mission Shaped Questions edited by Steven Croft, the follow up to the report ‘Mission-shaped church’ brought out by the Anglican church a few years ago in the UK. It examines the beginnings of the Fresh Expressions movement which seeks to create fresh ways being/doing church which are culturally relevant. I thought I’d blog my way through it.
In the first chapter, the editor Steve Croft, who also heads up the Fresh Expressions movement gives an overview of the aims of the movement and the types of church that it was intended to create.
It is based on the premise that the church must become a ‘mixed-economy church’ because we are living in a mixed economy culture. That is – society is becoming fragmented and there are now a lot of different forced at work. In some places community is still based around a geographical location, such as in some villages or some areas of cities that have a firm identity. But increasingly, community is networked. That is, it is based around an activity, interests, age, ways of thought, and others.
“British society is becoming itself more diverse. This means it is no longer enough to imagine that the Christian Church can change in one particular direction (such as introducing guitars or informality into its worship) and so move with the times. That may appeal to some, but it will alienate others. Different parts of our culture are actually moving in different directions”
So diverse forms of mission and worship need to be developed that are in tune with the surrounding (sub?)culture. The church is now aware that one weekly service cannot appeal to everyone – fresh ways of proclaiming and living out the message need to be found for different groups.
But at the same time, the fresh expression of church needs to be based on something. In the Anglican Declaration of Assent, which all newly ordained ministers have to proclaim, it says:
“The church of England…professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”
The basis of a fresh expressions must be the gospel, set out in the Bible and creeds. This is foundational, but how you then express this is up for debate. These gospel foundations can then be contextualised (not changed, but proclaimed in a relevant way) for the culture.
Steve Croft goes onto say that the Fresh Expressions network is dedicated to creating churches. It is not about evangelism as a stepping stone into an existing Sunday congregation, but to create new forms of church which are accessible to those who currently are not a part of any church. This may take many forms, such as reclassifying a midweek lunch club for the elderly by adding a community emphasis and some form of worship. Or it could be something much more innovative, such as the TubeStation, a church to meet the needs of the surfing community in Polzeath, North Cornwall. Because of this, Croft emphasises that service and discipleship must be founding marks of any fresh expression.
I visited the TubeStation a couple of days ago, albeit on a day they were closed to make adjustments to the interior. It is set in an old Methodist church which was practically dead. They gave the building to Christian Surfers UK who have turned it into a very welcoming skate cafe. Where the pulpit and communion table used to be there is now a skate ramp. The rest of the room is fitted out as an interactive cafe, serving good drinks and some food, with free Wi-fi, comfy chairs, and video games. This helps to build community. Out of this they can offer some well-tailored worship, informal chats and discussions. Looks great and it is attracting people who might never go into a more formal service, but still have a desire for God.