Three Fresh Expressions Your Church Can Start Today

“Our church wants to reach out to our neighbors, we just don’t know where to start.”

Over the past five years, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this from church leaders across the country. Fresh Expressions has been inspiring a missionary movement in the United States since it came across “the pond” (from England) in 2012. However, many churches don’t believe they have what it takes to start one.

I disagree! I am confident that every church can and should start a fresh expression.

What is a fresh expression?

A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. They come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples. They have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.

Fresh expressions offer a framework that is wide open with possibilities. Fresh expressions gather in a myriad of places and ways and this can feel daunting to many folks. As I work with congregations in Western North Carolina, I’ve found that replicable fresh expressions can be a great way for churches to get started in this work.

Here are three replicable fresh expressions every church can start today:

1. Dinner Church

A young adult pastor told me about a recent endeavor in his church to make the Wednesday night church meal more inclusive and welcoming. “We ended up accidently starting a dinner church.”

Dinner church is simply the church gathered around the dinner table. Some dinner churches are large gatherings in fellowship halls; some are smaller gatherings meeting in restaurants or homes. Orders of worship vary from dinner church to dinner church. Some include short messages, some encourage table conversations, most have a time of community prayer, some have music, and some don’t. All have an intentional focus on inviting neighbors who are not connected to any church.

We Will Feast, by Kendall Vanderslice, is a great new book with several examples of different kinds of dinner churches.

2. Messy Church

Messy Church is a form of church for children and adults that involves creativity, celebration and hospitality. It typically includes a welcome, a long creative time to explore the biblical theme through getting messy; a short celebration time involving story, prayer, song, games and similar; and a sit-down meal together at tables. They are by far the most prominent and fruitful fresh expressions in the UK.

Lucy Moore, the founder of Messy Church in the UK, shared this story:

“A Messy Church leader told me recently of a family who had started coming to their Messy Café outreach project because their five-year-old was asking about God; the family then came to Messy Church, joined the Sunday congregation too, are on the Messy leadership team and are now asking to be baptized. They’ve brought six extended family members into the church by enthusiastic invitation and they want to help raise money for Messy Church. If this isn’t discipleship, what is?”

The newest Messy Church book is a perfect resource for getting started.

3. Memory Café and Worship for those with Dementia

Alzheimers and dementia can be incredibly isolating for those experiencing it and their caretakers.

Memory Cafés are welcoming social gatherings for people with dementia and their care partners. They meet in safe and accessible community spaces and include activities aimed at a wide range of cognitive abilities. They often include sing-a-longs, gentle exercise, art, socializing, drumming, TimeSlips storytelling, and dancing.

Trinity United Methodist Church in Gastonia, NC wanted to be more active in their community. They heard about the challenges their neighbors with memory issues faced and reached out to local agencies who were already doing this work. They have offered their space for a caregiver support group and they hosted community forums on dementia at the church. Their first Memory Café will be this November, and they hope to offer a worship service for folks with memory issues in the near future.

Memory Café is not a religious gathering, but it can be a great way to connect with folks in your community who are experiencing dementia and their care partners. Out of these connections some churches are inviting attendants back for a worship service that is designed especially for them.

To get started, reach out to a local organization already working with folks experiencing dementia in your community and download a Memory Café Toolkit here.

Be Mindful of Your Context

While these three models of fresh expressions are easier to “cut and paste” it is still important to think through your church’s context. It’s important to ask if this model is the right fit for your community and your church. Then talk through how this fresh expression will need to look different to fit well in your community. For any fresh expression to succeed you’ll need to build relationships with your neighbors first and build partnerships with other organizations that are connecting with people in your community.

It can be intimidating to start something new at your church. Just remember, we worship the God who is making all thing new!

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