Share thoughts - February 2011

Paper Chains'Fresh expressions' - too contaminated to be useful?

There's a certain cynicism about fresh expressions in some quarters

People have called almost anything a 'fresh expression' – even a new church notice board! (See Mike Hill's blog). The term 'fresh expression' risks becoming almost meaningless.

Too broad a definition can also avoid the challenge of engaging fruitfully with people who don't currently attend church. If anything new can be a fresh expression, the church is let off the hook of doing mission more effectively. We can bask in the satisfaction of thinking that we too are doing fresh expressions, without making the mission sacrifices.

Mission should be at the heart of our understanding of fresh expressions

In What is a fresh expression of church?, the Fresh Expressions team has offered the following as a definition:

A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.

  • It will come into being through principles of listening, service, contextual mission and making disciples.
  • It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.

This is a bit of a mouthful but it does make some important points.

It emphasises four things in particular

Fresh expressions are:

  • missional – serving people outside church;
  • contextual – listening to people and entering their culture;
  • formational – forming disciples as a priority;
  • ecclesial – being church rather than a stepping-stone into church.

Might it be time to raise the bar on what it means to be a fresh expression?

Might these four bullets be a helpful way of giving meaning to the term?

If a denomination or a diocese has a policy for promoting fresh expressions, does what it has in mind satisfy these criteria?

If a local church is describing an initiative as a fresh expression, again does the venture meet these criteria? Let’s be relaxed if it doesn't – it could still be a worthwhile project. But at least the church wouldn't be raising false expectations.

And let's remember, too, that expectations may change. A community project may evolve unexpectedly into a fresh expression.

Wouldn't we all be helped by using 'fresh expressions' in a more careful way?

We would love your comments on this at the end of the Share page, What is a fresh expression of church?.

For more thought-provoking articles on different aspects of fresh expressions of church, visit the Share website. To discuss with others, join the Share Community.