The Big Question! At times it seems like the term means many things to many people – bandied about willy-nilly until anything that isn’t an old-school church service merits the title. However, Fresh Expressions are ‘a thing’ and we are on a mission to help clarify the term so that practitioners are better understood and supported. The trouble is there is no single model, no one-size-fits-all, and instead Fresh Expressions (FXs) grow up in different ways depending on their context.
However, we use a FX definition which sets the agenda and opens conversations with others – and it’s a good (if imperfect) starting point…:
“Fresh Expressions are new forms of church that emerge within contemporary culture and engage primarily with those who don’t ‘go to church”
Believing that God is already at work in the world, Fresh Expressions reimagine how the Body of Christ can live and work in diverse and changing contexts.
Over 3000 Fresh Expressions are now active around the world. From the initial vision of Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Mission Shaped Church report (2004) a growing movement of practitioners and pioneers have formed Fresh Expressions of Church in the UK, across Europe and in North America. Church Army Researcher George Lings calculated that in 2016, a survey of 20 dioceses showed 1109 Fresh Expressions of Church with approximately 50,000 people attending.
Fresh Expressions of Church take a number of different forms, such as Messy Church, New Monastic Communities, Cafe Church or Alternative Worship to name but a few. However, a number of key features unite them and provide further clarity around what a FX is (and isn’t…):
A Fresh Expression is fresh! New, original, pioneering, innovative, different… you get the idea. A FX is not a re-brand or update to an existing model – it is a NEW thing that has developed because of a particular culture or context. They can be a network or a gathering, and they often don’t look like ‘church’.
A Fresh Expression has its own identity. It isn’t a tag-on or optional extra for people already involved in church, nor is it a bridge for those outside the church into joining ‘the real thing’. Fresh Expressions are the real thing for the people they engage with.
A Fresh Expression is mainly for people who don’t ‘go to church’. ‘Un-churched’ (those who’ve never been) or ‘de-churched’ (those who left for whatever reason) – FXs tend to grow to serve and make a space for these folk.
A Fresh Expression journeys with people. They make discipleship a priority – valuing people’s different faith journeys and supporting them as they wonder, explore and encounter.