Several members of the Great Plains Conference traveled March 15-17 to Reston, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C., to attend the national gathering of Fresh Expressions. The event, attended by more than 500 participants from across the nation, represented a number of denominations and local churches.
Fresh Expressions is a movement begun in the Anglican church of England as a response to church decline and youth disengagement. Leaders clearly state that it is not meant to be a program but more of "an operating system" by which to engage persons outside the walls of the church. The movement centers on the concept of prayer and learning to listen to where the Holy Spirit is moving in a community.
“Fresh Expressions offers one of the most creative ways for the local church in any context and of any size to harness the resources they already have to send laity to start new expressions of the faith,” said the Rev. Nathan Stanton, Great Plains Conference director of congregational excellence.
One example presented at the national gathering included a church that had a Saturday food bank. As the church listened to participants in that ministry, they found a group of people who would probably never walk into a local church but were interested in meeting together to learn more about God and worship. That resulted in a Saturday worship experience birthed around the food bank. Over and over, presenters emphasized that Fresh Expressions is not a movement to populate a local church but is truly about listening and watching for where the Holy Spirit is moving in people’s lives. New worshiping communities are birthed out of relationship and not attraction.
One Great Plains attendee was Ronda Kingwood, pastor of the southeast campus of Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita. Kingwood was asked to provide a testimony about creative community outreach from her congregation, but she said she was excited to hear other creative ways to conduct ministry beyond the walls of the church building. Some possibilities include meals to go along with the worship time.
“I love the dinner church concept,” Kingwood said. “The interesting thing is that we do a breakfast every Sunday morning for the community. So we have breakfast church, just didn’t have the name. I plan to implement the dinner church by having the young adults start one in our community as well as starting a new street ministry.”
The ultimate goal of Fresh Expressions is discipleship engagement. In addition, this movement is not reliant upon professional clergy to implement. There are as many Fresh Expressions led by lay people as clergy. However, they all have the same aim: loving people where they are through Christ, listening for the needs presented as genuine relationships are built, finding ways to share the Good News of Christ while meeting those needs, and building a community that will then go out and repeat the process.
Deb Hirsh, one of the presenters, shared that traditional church has very clear boundaries about who is “in” and who is “out.” However, Jesus reflected a ministry where those boundaries are not clear. She shared that the goal is to keep focusing on personally loving Christ and helping to point people toward loving Christ as well. This belief leads people to desire to encounter Christ and God's word, thus allowing the Holy Spirit to shape and grow them into deep followers of Christ.
Fresh Expressions is a model that can be implemented in a small rural community or an urban apartment complex. It does not require a certain type of building, a set structure or large amounts of money. All it takes is a heart to gather people in relationship to experience God's love with the hope of eventually seeing them grow into deep disciples of Jesus Christ.
Stanton said he hopes to see the Fresh Expressions concept – with the focus on outreach and moving beyond the walls of church buildings – gain a foothold in the Great Plains Conference.
“With an initial goal of 34 Fresh Expressions potentially to be launched in the Great Plains, I believe that is floor,” Stanton said. “I believe the sky is the limit for a conference like this one to have laity and clergy partner to engage new people in their communities.”
If you are interested in learning more about fresh expressions you can visit their website at https://freshexpressionsus.org/. In addition, the Rev. Michael Beck, a United Methodist elder in the Florida Conference, will share about Fresh Expressions during a workshop June 15 during the 2018 Great Plains Annual Conference session in Wichita.
The Rev. Dr. Mitch Reece is the Wichita East and West Districts Superintendent. Reece can be contacted at email@example.com. Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference. Seifert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.