The pandemic has left too many churches in a state of limbo, said a presenter from Fresh Expressions who will be working with the Great Plains Conference in a webinar later this month.
“There’s such a state of overwhelm right now,” said the Rev. Matt Lake, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. “We’ve heard repeatedly from pastors and congregations feeling overwhelmed at so many levels that they don’t know what to do to be able to take a step forward.”
Lake and the Rev. Michael Beck, director of remissioning for Fresh Expressions and a pastor of Wildwood UMC in Florida, will present “From the Steeple to the Street: A New Kind of Church for a New Kind of World,” in a six-hour Zoom webinar on Friday, Oct. 23.
The Great Plains is one of the first conferences that Fresh Expressions is working on with this format, Lake said.
“We want to spend some time, even though it might be obvious, just understanding as clearly as we can the missional reality that we are in and that we face,” Lake said. “We want to spend some time figuring out how we begin being congregations and living as Christians in a way that will help us live into these missional realities.”
Some of the solutions that will be shared, Lake said, can begin easily and quickly.
“It’s more than just talking in theory,” he said. “We try to get some practicality that people can walk away with and immediately begin to implement.”
The session will also have a primer on what can be considered a Fresh Expression and what cannot.
“We’ll give some clarity to what Fresh Expressions are, because a lot of the time there are really new, creative ventures happening that we would definitely say are Fresh Expressions,” Lake said. “We also want to be careful to say a small group meeting in a different place isn’t necessarily a Fresh Expression.”
Lake said he’s seen a variety of Fresh Expressions that have emerged from the pandemic, including worship and small-group meetings at dog parks, gyms, the open-air areas of bars, rugby games, dancing classes and in homes and back yards.
Prior to mid-March, he said, churches were talking about Fresh Expressions opportunities as something that would happen sometime in the future.
“What the pandemic did was, it brought tomorrow to today,” he said. “Suddenly these things we were talking about were no longer optional. They had to become things that we had to start to live into intentionally today.”
Once the pandemic has subsided, Lake said, he hopes churches don’t return to their previous ways.
“If we are not careful, we definitely will go back to what was,” he said, comparing it to the Israelites wanting to return to their lives of slavery after being freed. “We’re still humans living in all our humanness. Before the pandemic, everyone was thinking, ‘We want new forms of church and we want to be vibrant and relevant and all of these things.’ And now that we’ve been given the opportunity in the pandemic, I also think it’s easy to say, ‘It wasn’t that bad before, let’s go back.’
“If our only intent to go back to what was, I think we’ll miss out on a tremendous opportunity that’s before us,” he added.
The freedom that churches have to try something different is modeled after the New Testament, he said.
“When you look at the life of Jesus and where he was doing ministry, yes there were times He was doing it in public or in a more formal place of learning,” Lake said, “But you see Him walking along the beach, you see Him out at weddings, in homes, all of these places — lots of what’s happening with Fresh Expressions mirrors what Jesus did in His life and in His ministry. To me, that is very, very hopeful.”
Shane Warta, coordinator of lay leadership for the Great Plains Conference, said he hoped the “Steeple to Street” webinar would continue the momentum and energy that the first Vision Day had with churches learning new ideas in 2019.
“It’s going to be a tight-knit virtual experience where folks can get something out of it individually or, if they’re able to, join with others virtually,” Warta said. “We hope it’s resourceful for looking at how they want to do ministry now and in the future.”
Lake said he and Beck don’t pretend to have all the answers but see their role in the webinar as facilitators who help bring out ideas from participants.
“We are by no means experts. We are fellow practitioners along the way,” he said. “God is certainly moving in this time. There really is a tremendous opportunity for us right now.”
Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.