What is a Fresh Expression?

Fresh Expressions have been part of the missional landscape long before the Church of England published it’s Mission Shaped Church Report in 2004. This vital report highlighted changes in culture, trends in church attendance and suggested the future of mission needed to create a mixed economy of church practice, including what it called ‘Fresh Expressions of Church.’

Fresh Expressions existed way before 2004 but the report defined these re-imagined models of church like this …

“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 the missional God is already at work in the world, Fresh Expressions reimagine how the Body of Christ can live and work in changing times.  We seek to join in with the work of the Spirit and reach out to those around us.

Fresh Expressions of Church usually emerge when:

  • The Spirit of God speaks to people about the missional needs of an area, people group or culture.
  • When people band together to try, and explore something new or take the Church to new ground.
  • When local people’s needs or hopes intersect with faithful people who feel God’s call to start something.
  • When that sense of call leads to action, usually in forming a community or serving people locally to start with. We use a model called The Fresh Expressions Journey that explores the development of a Fresh Expression more.

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 several different forms, such as Messy Church, New Monastic Communities, Cafe Church or Alternative Worship to name but a few.  However, several key features unite them and provide further clarity around what a Fresh Expression is.

A Fresh Expression is missional.  These initiatives are 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) – Fresh Expressions tend to grow to serve and make a space for people who identify in this way.

A Fresh Expression is contextual. Fresh Expressions, like other missional movements, seek to contextualise the gospel for a culture.  Whether it’s skateboarders, new housing estates or sports clubs – these communities take seriously the culture they’re serving and don’t impose or assume a certain way of doing things.

A Fresh Expression is Formational. Growing as disciples and as a community of disciples. This is a reminder of the call to Christlikeness and that the church is a community of disciples. It stops the fresh expression from being reduced to a mere meeting. Authentic disciples are formed in community, over time, through daily habits of obedience to God.

A Fresh Expression is ecclesial. Fresh Expressions is a movement seeking to establish churches.  They may look different and seem different to what’s been done before, but they make discipleship a priority – valuing people’s different faith journeys and supporting them as they wonder, explore and encounter.