Churches get inspiration for Fresh Expressions during Vision Day

David Burke


If you want to see where old-fashioned thinking will lead you, leaders of the Fresh Expressions movement say, look no further than Blockbuster Video.

But you can’t – there is only one brick-and-mortar outlet left for the once-behemoth movie rental chain. It fell to Netflix, which harnessed the new, expanded reach of internet streaming to topple Blockbuster, which required drives back to the store for customers to return their rentals.

“Our method of delivery is not working for everybody,” said the Rev. Kris Beckert, a mission strategist and trainer for Fresh Expressions. “We can either be Blockbuster or Netflix.”

Participants listen to discussion at the Vision Day at Topeka First UMC. Photo by Todd Seifert

More than 600 people, whether in person at Topeka First United Methodist Church, at one of 10 different simulcast livestream sites, as well as interested churches in Texas and North Carolina, learned about Fresh Expressions in the Great Plains Conference’s second Vision Day, Feb. 9. More than 230 attended the first vision day a week earlier at The Water’s Edge in Omaha.

The Fresh Expressions movement, which began in England, is a Christ-centered community that thinks “upward, outward, inward and ‘of-ward,’” said the Rev. Travis Collins, another mission strategist and trainer.

It meets people in their “third places,” the first being home and the second being their job, Collins and Beckert said.

Fresh Expressions gather people with similar life experiences – addicts or prostitutes, for example – or those with similar interests and occupations. Leaders said they have seen Fresh Expressions groups that have sprouted from video gamers, the scientific community, international community, artists and art patrons, fitness buffs and outdoor enthusiasts.

“We believe there’s a movement that’s spreading across the land, reaching new people in new ways,” said Beckert, a pastor of innovation and multiplication at a Church of the Nazarene in Virginia.

The movement tries to make more personal connections with the unchurched – or as Fresh Expressions leaders call them, “Pre-Christians” – to lead them to Christ.

The Rev. Anne Gahn, left, is among participants during the livestream simulcast at Lexington UMC. Contributed photo

Something needs to be done, leaders say. Surveys have shown a decline of 1 percent a year in those who identify themselves as Christians. Sometime in the 2020s, Fresh Expressions leaders say, Christians will be the minority in the country.

“They’re not angry, they’re just disinterested,” said Collins, lead pastor at a Baptist church in Alabama.

“What if we could connect with that half of the population,” Collins asked, “instead of just writing them off?”

Fresh Expressions groups would work as a complement, not competition, to the existing church, leaders say, and be “tethered” to the existing congregation.

“It will reflect the subculture we’re trying to change,” Beckert said, adding that it was not “church-lite.”

Fresh Expressions needs current church members and clergy to be Pioneers, Supporters and Permission Givers, leaders say.

The church must be ready to take chances, even if it doesn’t mean success.

“We have to be willing to reimagine a lot of things about church,” Beckert said. “Failure means that we tried something.”

But with all of the unique angles for Fresh Expressions groups, she added, it has to be Christ-based.

“The DNA is about the Gospel,” she said. “This is not about just a bunch of fun-loving people getting together.”

Members of KU-Wesley discuss their ideas. Photo by Todd Seifert

The Rev. Lorna Boden, pastor of Tecumseh UMC in Kansas, said the Vision Day left her inspired.

“It kind of reopened my own mind to remember what Jesus did, and Jesus didn’t preach and teach and heal from a building,” Boden said. “He went out to where the people were – the hurting and the broken and the lost.”

Boden said she and others from her church have already talked about what Fresh Expressions might look like in their Shawnee County community.

“To reach the people today, we’re going to have to look at it in a different way,” she said. “Even in a small community, there’s still a listening factor that has to go on.”

Beth Watson, one of six lay persons in attendance from Wellsville UMC in Kansas, said the Fresh Expressions leaders had excellent points, and her church needed to begin “making hard decisions about what is fruitful and what isn’t.”

An idea the church has considered, in conjunction with the Wellsville school, is a walking club. Other ideas may spring up soon, she said.

“There are some seeds planted,” she said.

The Vision Days marked just the beginning of the process. The next steps for churches who participated Feb. 2 and 9 will be to participate in roundtable discussions. These discussions will be conducted regionally throughout the Great Plains, April 5-9, based on Vision Day participation by churches. Sites, exact dates and times will be published soon.

Fresh Expressions roundtables serve as an opportunity to:

  • Ask in-depth questions about the concepts, theological foundations, and the developmental process of Fresh Expressions.
  • Envision the implications of Fresh Expressions for specific congregations and communities.
  • Gain some experience with Fresh Expressions to receive one-on-one guidance on how to take next steps on this journey.

The Vital Congregations Team of the Great Plains Conference will provide 50 grants for new Fresh Expressions of up to $500 each, available after networks and local congregations participate in the roundtable discussions. Applications are available on the home page of the Great Plains Conference under the Fresh Expressions pane.

For more information about the application process contact the Congregational Excellence department at 785-414-4242.

Learn more about Fresh Expressions on the conference website.

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