Fresh Expressions (fxC) are catching on across all church denominations. Across the Church of England, one in eight churches has started one.
FxCs have many names. You may hear them called church plants, messy churches, cafe churches, new monastic communities, missional communities, congregations, gatherings, discipleship groups – almost anything!
They come in many shapes and sizes, but always reflect their context and are relevant to the people and cultures in which they take place. In the Diocese of Southwark, they reflect the wide range of church traditions and socio-economic backgrounds which make up our Diocese.
FxCs are missional, contextual, formational and ecclesial. In other words, they:
- serve those outside the church
- listen to people and enter their context
- make discipleship a priority: journeying with people to Jesus
- form church – they are not bridges to an existing church, but an expression of church for others in the midst of their lives.
FxCs are not better than the existing church. They complement it and come to birth alongside it. Existing churches may connect with people on their fringe, while many fxCs serve people well beyond the fringe. Both types of church can affirm and support each other – what’s known as ‘mixed ecology’ church.
The Church and the Mission of God
It is important to remember that the Church has always developed and adapted. The Catholic missions and church planting of the 19th century, or the Evangelical focus on social justice at the end of the 18th century and of the 19th century, show a radical continuity. Digging deep into faith, these movements interpreted their tradition in deep and authentic ways that showed how radical they could be.
An authentic fxC will listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying, listen to its context and dig deep into the riches of its tradition. This allows us to build on the foundations of our faith and practice and yet be challenged to develop into what the Spirit is prompting us to be and do.
Fresh Expressions in Southwark
We currently have about 100 fxCs in the Diocese of Southwark which together contain more than 4,000 people and this number is growing all the time. In addition, we have about two to three times that number of Mission Initiatives which churches put forward as potential fxCs.
There are therefore lots of other reasons to start one, including:
- God is missional and asks us to join in. Many are finding that fxCs are having a real impact in reaching people who are not part of any church. As a Diocese we are committed to growth, and fxCs are one of the key ways in which we can do this
- they allow for imaginative responses whilst we continue to invest in our existing congregation (what Archbishop Rowan Williams called “the mixed economy”). The vast majority of fresh expressions are parish-based
- fxCs require us to work in community. We discover that we need one another, and that God uses people’s gifts in unexpected ways
- it takes the Apostolic Mission seriously. To follow Jesus commits us to a journey and that usually means to the edges and the corners of our society
- they are exciting as they allow us to dig into the best of our tradition; enable us to look out of the corner of our eyes at what God might be calling us to do; release gifts in people who didn’t realise they possessed them; and use the mustard seed of resource that we have available to us to see what God can do.
As more churches grapple with how to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who don’t currently attend, the more many are realising that they need to grapple with culture and what “Church” might look like for people on the outside. This is where the insights of the fxC movement can help.
A working definition of a fresh expression of Church is:
Fresh Expressions are new forms of church that emerge within contemporary culture and engage primarily with those who don’t ‘go to church’.
Types of fresh expressions of Church
There are many different forms of fresh expressions of Church and many are unique responses to the context and culture that they are seeking to engage with. Some of the more common types include:
A church plant is where one church forms a new worshipping community. We recommend this when a church can replicate good practice from their church in an area with a similar demographic. This might be a social group or an age-related group. Where a church wishes to form a new worshipping community in an area that is unlike their own we suggest some real thought and understanding of contextual mission first.
Messy Church is a way of being church for families and others. It is Christ-centred, for all ages, based on creativity, hospitality and celebration. We have a number of Messy churches around the Diocese.
Café Church is a loose format that can include worshipping communities meeting in a hall to a group of people meeting in a local café. Key elements of it are the informal, interactive style that takes place over refreshments.
New Monastic Communities
New Monastic Communities seek to re-engage in a radical commitment to seek to join in God’s mission in places where God can feel absent. In everyday clothes, they make commitments to one another, to the church as a form of spiritual community, and to a new way of living an ancient way of life in a radically different context.
There are two sorts of missional community. The first is radical, with a vision of serving and reaching out to the people in the area. Radical communities start out independent from their local churches but may eventually work back to connect with mainstream churches. The second type of missional community starts from a mainstream church and seeks to focus on a particular area of need.