In Layman's Terms: Gaining some Fresh Expressions

Todd Seifert


First of all, I apologize for not having written in a while. But it’s been for a good reason.

As most of you are aware, the three Great Plains Conference offices in Lincoln, Wichita and Topeka have been consolidated to a new, single conference office in Topeka. Toss in the upheaval that comes with moving your office, all the gear that comes with serving in communications ministry and your home, and writing had to move fairly far down the priority list.

Well, starting today, I’m trying to get back at it with a regular blog about something to do with communications each week. Sometimes, it’s going to be me sharing something I’ve provided as part of a workshop. Sometimes, it’s going to be something that we’ve recorded as a conference staff. Other times, it will be videos or how-to documents shared by others.

Here’s where I pause to say “Please don’t be bashful.” If you have a communications tip that you think will help others – either what they could be doing or, if you’re brave enough, by sharing something that failed miserably – we all might be able to benefit. Please send me an email with that info, and I'll share it in an appropriate way.

Sometimes these blogs may contain hands-on stuff – best practices for designing slides for worship, signage do’s and don’ts, etc. But at other times, like today, it may include some tips on discipleship and how we, as communicators, can help spread the message.

If you take a look at Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus instructs us to make disciples of all nations. My guess is he wants us to do that in whatever way we can. If Facebook had been around in Jesus’ day, I have no doubt he would have been “live” during the Sermon on the Mount and would have boosted a post or two to show the generosity of the young boy who provided the beginnings of a meal that fed thousands.

Let's start in a somewhat unconventional way. The video below is a workshop from the 2018 annual conference session featuring the Rev. Michael Beck, who introduced the concept of “Fresh Expressions.” This is a culture shift in the local church because the emphasis is truly on meeting people where they are, and the focus is on “being” the church instead of being “in” the church.

We talk about that concept a lot as United Methodists, but we often don’t connect the dots that our declining numbers correlate really well with how comfortable we are worshiping Jesus in the pew and how uncomfortable we are talking about Jesus beyond the walls of the building.

Michael’s presentation shares some thoughts about how his church in Florida used outreach as a means of changing its culture and, as a great side effect, grew its numbers.

As you watch the video, especially if you are a local church communicator, I urge you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What avenues are available to me to help promote gatherings outside the church walls to ensure the community knows about this great opportunity?
  • How do I share the same information with a very different audience – the people already within the church family? Yes, the methods and messaging will be different.
  • What kinds of materials do we need to have printed ahead of time, if any, to help people participate, learn and have something to take with them that will not intimidate but instead inspire and make them feel more comfortable in this different way of “doing church”?
  • How will we measure success of our messaging related to the concept of “Fresh Expressions”?
The workshop is about 70 minutes long, but don’t worry. Michael is a great presenter, and it won’t seem nearly that long. You’ll see real examples of things that worked, explanations of how his church made this concept work, and hopefully you’ll glean some ideas that will help you move your local congregation forward.

And as an aside, Fresh Expressions is going to be a real emphasis for the Great Plains Conference in 2019. Yes, I know people are really focused on the special session of General Conference in St. Louis, and understandably so. But regardless of what happens Feb. 23-26, 2019, and regardless of what form The United Methodist Church takes after those four days, as Christians we have a job to do. The conference's Congregational Excellence staff wants to help you succeed.

Going back to Matthew 28:19-20, nowhere does Jesus tell us to make disciples “unless … .” So watch the weekly GPconnect email newsletter for more information as it becomes available.

Enjoy the workshop. Ponder those questions. And be a real resource for your congregation in helping spread the message of Christ in your community – especially to the unchurched, which is the audience Fresh Expressions is going to help us reach.

Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 785-414-4224, or via email at Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter, @ToddSeifert.