A fresh expression of church looks and feels different from a church that primarily meets in a church building to worship on a Sunday morning or evening.
They grow in response to our changing culture primarily for those who are not yet members of any church. A Fresh Expression of Church may not initially express everything that we might expect in a mature church but has potential to become a mature expression of church, shaped by the gospel, for its cultural context.
Establishing a Fresh Expression takes time; a lot of listening to God and the community to understand the needs, priorities, questions and culture of the people. In all the listening, the priority is to discern God’s purposes within this community, and what an authentic expression of Christian community would look like in this place.
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Some arise as an existing church adapts its regular patterns of life and worship in response to the community it seeks to serve, creating a new initiative alongside the more traditional expression of church. For some existing church groups – such as a toddlers’ group, or a monthly service in a residential home become fully church in their own right, and not a stepping-stone to ‘proper’ church. Others again will see entirely new congregations being planted in response to need. Examples include café church, messy church, or a church in a new housing area.
The primary difference between a Fresh Expression and other missional activities is the intention to build a church, rather than being a project on a journey towards the existing church community. Always present is a desire to be responsive to the local context and to build something that expresses the gospel in a way that is in keeping with that culture.
Fresh Expressions, Pioneer Ministry and mission shaped ministry
The Church of England uses ‘pioneer ministry’ to describe a particular calling to develop fresh expressions of church. Fresh Expressions are sometimes led by an individual pioneer, either an ordained Pioneer Minister or a Lay Pioneer. In other places this pioneering ministry is led by teams of lay people who feel called to engage in mission and extend the boundaries of local church life.
The one year mission-shaped Ministry course equips people for leading pioneer initiatives and for inspiration are occasional visits to local Pioneering and Fresh Expressions projects. For those who are pioneering locally we arrange regular peer support events.
Some types of pioneering are deeply engaged in the local community without a clear sense of how, when or even if a Fresh Expression will develop – the depth of community engagement requires an open mind on this question, at least in the early stages. For this reason, the term pioneer is increasingly also being used for those with a calling to community engagement even if their primary focus isn’t the development of a Fresh Expression.
The diagram below indicates the variety of different kinds of pioneering that are beginning to emerge. As the cultural distance from church increases, the shape of pioneering changes in order to be increasingly sensitive to local context. Pioneers may be called to ministry at any point along the spectrum, and of course in untidy spaces that don’t quite fit the categories!