The roots of Fresh Expressions

This is a reply to a text message about a church a friend is going to that is part of the fresh expressions that he felt is grassroots orientated. (He is right. It is, but there is an element where its not which I find more intresting). So this is the church: and this is my reply (feel free to correct me if things are factually incorrect)

One thing that is interesting about Fresh Expressions is how NOT grassroots it is! It was commissioned by Steven Croft, Graham Cray and Rowan Williams! I mean its about as top down as you can get (being something almost created by the arch bishop). Graham Cray is the guy who is Mike Pilavachi’s boss and also created Greenbelt. Graham Cray also heads up some really awesome sociological research like “making sense of generation Y” and has given quite a few talks about what a new church should look like (For example he talks a lot about how our culture doesn’t do corporate singing whilst churches that aim to be new and reaching our culture focus on mat redman style worship which is actually very counter-cultural). Stephen Croft I think was the other potential candidate for arch bishop alongside Justin Welby and he is the main person behind fresh expression. He is also Steve Wilcockson’s boss! (Steve is his number 2, an arch deacon that actually carries out his ideas in his area).

So although fresh expression churches feel all grassroots-ey its actually just the result of brilliant top-down research driven marketting!!! Which is fun because all the other “liberal” “grassroots-ey” things outside of the christian world are the same. The Pharmaceutical companies own all the health food alternative supplement brands. What is so impressive is every time I have disagreed with something the fresh expressions guys (specifically graham cray) has said I have always been wrong. Every assumption I have had about our culture (which is usually very in tune of mainstream church’s assumptions) that has been at odds with what graham cray found through his research, I have later found to be incorrect even with the people around me. I just never knew about it.

Most of his research is even better then anything in the secular world regarding generation Y. When people talk about this generation and the millenials they tend to get far too excited by the impact of the Internet and go on about that but actually there are plenty of people our age who don’t use facebook.

Fresh Expressions are really interesting. With New Wine I went to a seminar where bunches of them got together. Its really an extension of the Cell group movement that we were part of and the values behind it are really similar but Cell Groups had too much structure. The flip side is that fresh expressions haven’t quite worked out how to scale without looking more and more like traditional churches.

They are also unbelievably diverse. There is a fresh expression in Earl’s Court which is really just a bunch of people looking after homeless people using an old chapel as a base. They basically don’t do any “marketting” aimed at christians and don’t try and attract them. Another fresh expression was just on an allotement in a council estate where they did gardening and people could join them.

It goes hand and hand with the New Monastic movement which is also unbelievably cool. The new monks are so much cooler then the old monks.

So yeah, I think I’d like to come. But be warned. Its unlikely I’ll “like” it. I don’t really like churches anymore. I don’t really have oppinions apart from “How can I use technology to help this church” and “What is this particular community’s place in the global church and how can it use technology to increase its influence”

I’m sure there are some churches out there that are so bad they are nothing but toxic to the body of christ and should be completely expelled. But more often then not those churches don’t want to be part of the rest of the church anyway and become cults especially in a society where being christian doesn’t give you any real advantages. Most of the time a church that is “good” just have aspects that are good and aspects that are bad but due to your particular personality type you don’t care about the bad thigns as much and get a lot from the good things. From an overall objective point of view they are just a mixture and this fits with the way that paul pretty much lays into every one of the churches he was dealing with.

So I’ll probably both love and hate the church

2 thoughts on “The roots of Fresh Expressions

  1. How we do it now leaves us undernourished:

    We divide into similar groupings (denominations) and seek to maximise attendance. We then design

    worship and services around prior fallen theological training utilising accredited suppliers usually fully qualified sinners travelling incognito as teachers or pastors (the clergy).

    What happens next? (death perhaps?)

    The main focus (ordained ministers) along with we

    (the royal priesthood) lead and try to deliver/manage outreach/the great commission together at some level. How God actually builds the kingdom with us is dissipated between two main functions (teaching and pastoring). Little visibility as to how God sees it, how it is going! no single earthly part of the body takes responsibility, it appears to the world that only negative banished ex heavenly beings feature. Clergy deliver to a “spec” and or their employment contract rather than working to improve the combined area outreach for God. End users (the faithful and the

    unchurched) make their spiritual decisions based on the perceived human cost of choosing discipleship, a sort of illusionary spiritual “value for benefit” axis”. A sub-optimal process with the main focus on pastoral and teaching. It can and does deliver but it dissipates effort and is therefore not God’s best for us in His promises.

    Obedient outreach! Sub-optimisation divides the

    body and conflicting as it does with our “call” to

    manage/lead as a whole body. He is in us 1 Cor 12. Rom 8. God does intend to combine members of his Son’s body. Should conflict with our”calling” now be seen as merely yet one more obstacle to be overcome? Everyone must know what they are trying to do I.e obediently bearing fruit) working together on mutual end-to-end improvement of and for missionary outreach.

    How we do it now leaves us emaciated:

    Pre-determined verses, laminated proforma liturgy/mass/sermons are used to remember Jesus and focus worshipper’s hearts and minds on God and His objectives for the world. We provide incentives to the world e.g. baptism, marriage, funerals and confession, and sometimes apply subtle pressures to make each functional manager (clergy) and volunteer members of staff (the faithful) hit pre-defined but arbitrary-arrived-at targets e.g everything more than 10% giving more generally /and or calling for a 20% increase in church attendance are risky. They might leave us with a sin-soaked results focus, robbing God of His power in our lives..

    What happens next?

    Then, so charged this is what they do, priests and willing workers do all they can to meet their team’s objectives. Where this proves difficult, short-term decisions are taken e.g. re-structuring, work is re-allocated to other teams, (or churches) deaneries are combined, numbers get recalculated in creative ways! This can give more illusions of progress, but foreseen and unforeseen problems often re-surface later if we are not in God’s will!

    Obedient Outreach!:-

    By definition, all Christians are intrinsically motivated and obedient, willing to do a good job for God. It is usually variance within the process itself that affects our outreach performance, rather than diocesan, group or individual tardiness or incompetence. Thus targeting believers to do more with less fosters wrong thinking leading to wrong behaviour and prevents the Body of Christ working as one.

    How we do it now leaves us hungry:

    Top down we “fix”whatever we are going to do to arrive at an acceptable”target for outreach e.g Fresh Expressions. Some churches then measure to compare its average to the loosely-agreed overall target, taking punitive action if the results slip or targets are missed or the initiative is closed down. Mercifully the church is not characterised by this and has not reached that stage (yet) but it remains a slippery slope.

    Rowan’s target of 10,000 mixed economy of ” fresh expressions”communities is

    aspirational and has already slipped its moorings but, of course we are not conformed any more to this world in any way at all …are we? Of course not!

    What happens next?

    Believers usually evaluate or experience church life item-by-item such as the Sunday sermon and other week-by-week activities, home groups etc. However a simple yes/no decision is not enough, nor is it anywhere near fit for purpose. It masks

    thee true levels of variation as does overemphasising adherence to an agreed doctrine aand tradition. Why so? Because the church is living and is always on the move. As a result…many of the worthy messages which otherwise would direct teams to potential outreach and growth are lost in the spiritual battle of the paradigms.

    Obedient Outreach!:-

    Improved presentation of info, data and opportunity is required which may both simplify reports and meetings,whilst giving insight into what’s happening area by area, item by item, issue by issue. Averaging data masks the essential detail needed to improve all the individual processes that comprise the effort of the entire body of Christ

    How we do it now leaves us starving:

    If deterioration sets into an average performance measurement, exhorting both willing workers and clergy to improve is counter-productive. If it fails, as it will we then get someone else in to fix it! (run a more clearly defined improvement project.

    Re-arranging deckchairs only compounds errors!. What happens next? Improvement project teams usually deliver some benefits, the project/outreach disbands. Benefits often decay until the next project surge kicks in fuelling the quick fix” culture Diocesan staff and willing workers, (some of whom maybe are called by God) are rarely empowered to alter… never mind constantly improve the whole end-to-end mission process on

    a daily weekly or annual basis.


    Why so? Once, having moved away from God’s plum line, opening flloodgates of barriers to continual improvement such as (hierarchies, careers, finance communication, politics etc) profound trouble ensues. True lasting constantend-to-end improvement for outreach is

    the outcome of deliberate metanoic leadership decisions..carefully measured approaches post metanoia delivering all the key changes consistently with God’s constancy of purpose…… forever.

    In a cul-de-sac?…some folks reverse?

    Where is God already working?…test the spirits…. then join Him along with His Son and rely on His Holy Spirit. (its safer)

  2. hehe wow! Did you write that in just a comment or is that copy and pasted from something you’ve written before.

    Its a lot to digest but I do like where you are going 🙂

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