Monday, May 2, 2016

Refresh - the easy guide to fresh expressions of church

Ten years ago we prayed regularly on the Fresh Expressions (UK) team, that God would help us get beyond the far side of complexity to his simplicity - when it came to starting new forms of church.  Occasionally during that decade I felt that we had perhaps made reaching those with no church background quite a complex task. And as the institutional churches began to grapple with difficult issues thrown up by new and emerging Christian churches, the complexity appeared to grow. 
But those ten year old prayers have been answered in Refresh, published this weekend. I did what the introduction asked me to – made some coffee and sat down for 29 minutes. I came away convinced that this book, on sale for less than £5, had shown how the task of starting new, contextual churches is so achievable. The book gives some simple advice: just reflect on what has been happening, reflect on the early church, dig into some stories and then get on with it. Simplicity indeed. 

Dr Michael Moynagh has been on the Fresh Expressions team from the start, as its theological consultant, and has the gift of making difficult concepts crystal clear. Rob Peabody is working on the ground in East London helping young adults form new churches for their friends and neighbours. They are an awesome combination. 

They have found renewed confidence in fresh expressions language and the suggested journey from a call to reach out to the start of a church fit for context and led indigenously.  They explain well how this differs from more conventional forms of outreach and church planting. I don't work for Fresh Expressions any longer, and am not paid to promote their material, but I heartily recommend you spend £5 on this small but punchy book and buy a few for your church friends and leaders too. Then sit back and see what happens! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Time to resource growth

The latest statistics from the Church of England make fairly dismal reading. The overall picture is one of continuing decline and there are few signs that congregations are getting any younger. Since 1960 (if not before), the state church has been travelling in one direction. 

But there are some glimmers of hope and the full report is well worth a read. The concept of 'worshipping community' (page 22) is a good one and counting weekday as well as Sunday attendance is important. The Bishop of Norwich, quoted in today's media release, cites a number of good examples of growth, but gives a stark warning:

Given the age profile of the CofE, the next few years will continue to have downward pressure as people die or become housebound and unable to attend church. (Church of England Media Release)

So have fresh expressions of church had an impact? It is hard to tell from these figures but I am firmly convinced, and have often witnessed, that if Christians go into the community and begin to help others form church in a way that works for them, decline will slow and growth may come. Planting contextual churches (churches appropriate for the place, culture or network in which they are set), has got to be a major plank in any strategy for growth. 

That will only come about though as we say sorry for our mistakes of the past and pray hard about the opportunities of the future. But financial resources are also urgently needed if pioneers are going to be found to plant and lead contextual churches. Dioceses need to be spending much more on that than they are currently doing. National organisations such as Fresh Expressions need much more than minimal support. Congregations in a position to support pioneering need encouraging and resourcing. All that, sorry to use a dirty word, means hard cash.   

If today's stats, and the Bishop of Norwich, tell us one thing they tell us time is not on our side. It really is decision time. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lessons from decline?

Fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 (UK only) today about the dramatic decline of Methodism in Cornwall since 1980. The factors are complex, of course, and the researchers missed gems like Tubestation. Nevertheless it is a sober listen as much for what it didn't say, as for what it did.