In the late 1990’s and into the New Millennium, things were changing and stirring…. Disciples of Jesus were trying new and different things in response to where they saw the Holy Spirit at work. People in a number of denominations and mission agencies worked together reflecting on the 90’s church-planting movement and beginning a process of investing and pioneering new forms of church. These fresh expressions weren’t simply a fad or an attempt to be cool but looked to address a rapidly changing culture in the UK and a change in attitude to attending church and to a spiritual life. New things were taking place in different contexts, locations, times, as these different expressions sought to re-imagine church for this new environment, whilst staying true to a missional and Christ-centred gospel.
In 2004 the Mission Shaped Church Report, instigated by Archbishop Rowan Williams, listened and noticed what was happening, and new language began to develop such as ‘the mixed economy.’ The report went on to make recommendations for the future practice of this pioneering mission movement. It has gone on to be one of the most widely read and purchased Church of England reports ever. It argued that…
All of this was exciting and encouraging for many practitioners at the time who were working hard to disciple people and develop new and imaginative expressions of Church but found them hard to be accepted as ‘church.’ The report recognised their importance, placed value on their role in a ‘mixed economy’ or Church and furthermore recognised the need for the “identification, selection and training of pioneer church planters, for both lay and ordained furthermore recognised the need for the “identification, selection and training of pioneer church planters, for both lay and ordained ministers” (MSC pg.147.)
From this the Fresh Expressions initiative was born, as a partnership between the Church of England and the Methodist Church and initially led by Bishop Steven Croft (now Bishop of Oxford) with Revd Peter Pillinger as the Methodist Team Leader. Over the next 15 years new denominational partners joined the movement – the United Reformed Church, the Salvation Army, the Church of Scotland and the Baptist Union of Great Britain – all of whom identify growth and encouragements in these new experiments in Church.
The initial team identified:
The movement developed, first connecting with those projects already developed and then encouraging others to take first steps. These new forms of church ranged from family focused Messy Churches to New Monastic Communities and to Social Justice Projects. For a snapshot visit our YouTube page to see them in action.
Studies conducted between 2012 and 2016 showed 1109 Fresh Expressions of Church in the Church of England alone, identified in 21 UK Dioceses and with 50,600 attending. When the Methodist Church “research was carried out in (2016-17), there were estimated to be over 1,000 fresh expressions complementing around 4,500 local churches.” The Salvation Army lead on pioneering, Major Andrew Vertigan, comments there are more than 50 Salvation Army fresh expressions of church across the whole UK region catalysed through the partnership with the FX movement.
As we step into the future, Fresh Expressions is now developing as a network of networks – enabling practice and encouraging pioneering across the country. We are excited to see what happens next.
KEY DOCUMENTS ABOUT FRESH EXPRESSIONS
- Mission Shaped Church Report
- From Anecdote to Evidence; findings from the church growth research programme 2011-2013
- Methodism’s Hidden Harvest? the story of the first fifteen years of methodist involvement in fresh expressions
- General Synod Report July 2019 – a mission-shaped church and fresh expressions 15 years on
- New forms of Church attract thousands of worshippers in Leicestershire
- The Ecumenical Work of ‘God for all’ in Cumbria
- Messy Church – playfully serious
- fx Stories
‘The traditional wing of the Church has involved withdrawing from the world for short periods. Believers have withdrawn into God’s family in Sunday worship, small groups, conferences and retreats to be immersed in the Christian story. With their faith deepened and invigorated, they have re-entered the world to serve God.’
Read this article by Mike Moynagh about the theology behind Fresh Expressions
FX Associates are the core of the movement. They’re a growing community of hundreds of Fresh Expressions practitioners across the UK who are passionate about equipping, encouraging and championing fellow pioneers and Fresh Expressions. If you’re currently involved in a Fresh Expression and looking for your tribe then come and join us!
The fx movement is served by the charity, leadership community and contractors. The leadership community listens to the fx movement and communicates vision and strategy to the fx board who then make decisions about funding, governance and deployment of the fx Operations Team.
Thinking afresh about church is a mission priority. To re-imagine church requires a clear picture of what church is. What can change and what has to stay the same?
Reimagining worship starts with our understanding of what worship is. A crucial word is ‘indigenous’ – in other words, how can you take activities that your community feels passionately about and turn them toward glorifying God? It’s about not forcing assumptions about church onto communities.