Food for thought 

We had our third Agapai last night in its new format. There were 5 of us which has been our largest gathering yet (apart from when the archdeacon visited). A new person joined us who has only lived in the village for a few days and she is looking for community.Agapai felt like a welcoming community last night. There was food, sharing, serious moments, lots of laughter; there was prayer, hope and sharing of bread and wine. There was acknowledgment that God is at the centre of what we do.

All these things were exciting to see. Most of all though, and what I was really excited about, was that there was acceptance. There was real acceptance and the start gas of trust. I can’t be sure but I kind of feel that if any casual observer looked in on Agapai last night that they would never have guessed that we did not know each other very well, or that that particular group of people had never met before. The openness and acceptance showed something of the uniting spirit of God. 

It was a joy to be at …. I’m praying that we continue and grow! 

7 Busted Myths

imagesFollowing from the research releases a few days that I mentioned here, Norman has blogged a great post here exploding 7 myths about Fresh Expressions of church.

Like most pioneers I have, and do, encounter these, some on a daily basis which can be just a little frustrating! But … the research shows these what were thought of by others, and are still thought of, as facts are in fact myths that need destroying, dismissing, and throwing out of the window!

The 7 Norman identifies are:

1. It’s just about copying what works elsewhere
2. This is only possible with large urban congregations
3. You need a large team to start a fresh expression
4. Only evangelicals are interested!
5. Start with worship and you will grow church
6. Fresh Expressions are all the same
7. Fresh Expressions are about getting people into ‘real’ church.

Go read more here.

I guess I encounter 5 and 7 most regularly. To be honest they frustrate the hell out of me!

I guess 7 winds me up the most … as if I am going to spend my time building relationships with people and engage and create with them in some weird way to coerce them into a church building! I mean why would any honest person, let alone a Christian leader, do that. Fresh Expressions is about creating a new authentic expression of church in the culture you find yourself. Why, oh why, is that so difficult for people to get their head around!? We don’t need to come to real church because we are real church.

If 7 winds me up the most, then 5 worries me the most. Give us a guitar and some music and the church will grow. Personally, I have a problem with that as I think a lot of what is sung in some churches is simply not worship. There seems to be a lot of ‘me’ focussed stuff … and even worse I think a lot of it is poorly written. As I heard a person say recently …. ‘if I never sing a poorly written line from a worship song again then it will be too soon.’ Rather than focus new church around worship, worship grows out of new Christian community. rather than impose worship on a community, we need to allow it to evolve. That has started to happen at the gathering and it is incredibly exciting.

Anyway … time to hop off the soapbox and hit the sack! … But go read Norman’s blog … very thought provoking.

a pioneers plea …

warning: bit of a soapbox post!

There was some great researched published yesterday on church growth in the Church of England. George Lings and others outline the findings on the video and you can read a summary online and download a fuller version.

The headlines that have grabbed me:
Fresh Expressions of church are clearly furthering the mission of the Church of England
small is good … most fresh expressions are around or under 40 so they show a certain quality of community with a real sense of belonging
Fresh Expressions of church really are reaching new people that other churches do not reach at all.

After 6 years of ordained life as a pioneer of hearing that the Fresh Expressions ‘thing’ was going to be cut, or of hearing from others that I just get to do all the fun stuff which others with ‘real’ churches would love to do (I still heard that even this week!), or of being told that I do nothing different, or of being guilt laden by those who tell me I should do more baptisms or services, and of course of hearing that there is no finance to support Fresh Expressions because they are a ‘risk’ …. this report excites me, gives me hope, restores my faith in the establishment and expresses what we have known for some time….

Fresh Expressions of church just work!

And they work not because they are better than established or inherited church models (we need both – that’s what mixed economy means), nor because people leading Fresh Expressions are better leaders (that’s what the Body of Christ in 1 Cor 12 is all about), nor is it that God favours or blesses one type of church over another (that’s what Genesis, Image of God and Abrahamic blessing stuff is all about) …

Fresh Expressions of Church simply work because leaders of Fresh Expressions, like other leaders, work with integrity, they, like other leaders listen to God and to the prevailing culture, but their particular gift, unlike other leaders (that 1 Cor 12 thing again …. God made us to work together in variety) is to create something that matters and meets a particular group of people that other churches don’t. In our particular case, the gathering has taken 5 years to grow from 0 to around 20; 15 of which did not attend any church before they found the gathering.

So my plea …. encourage pioneers that you know. For years they have been looked down upon and viewed with suspicion. Those involved make great sacrifices (over half work unpaid – many actually giving up paid ministry or work to develop their community – and find other jobs to pay the bills). Often, by the very nature of the work, they are lonely, vulnerable and in risky contexts and can think regularly about giving up as idea after idea fails until something clicks (remember Edison and his 1000 attempts at the lightbulb!?)

Prayer and encouragement … on that I sign of ….. peace be with you.

Host cafe

These are my friends and I’m really privileged to be able to say that and be part of Moot. The only sad thing for me is that I cannot get to be with them as often as I would like. This video shows the new cafe … a dream that has taken 10 years to come to fruition. In that time the community, particularly Ian, have shown great patience and a trust in a God who delivers!

They are a great example to all of us of trusting God, waiting, and not looing for quick fix solutions. Oh … and the coffee is amazing too! So … go listen to the story and check it out next time you are nearby.


from ancient to (post) modern

IMG_0654I had the privilege of doing some more training on Saturday, this time for the Rochester Cluster of churches which held a quiet day with a fresh expressions flavour in Bishopscourt. This was an amazing place to hold a quiet day and I remember thinking what a privilege it is to be in a  diocese where the bishop opens up his home for parishes to use.

The day started in the ancient crypt of Bishopscourt where I had set up the journey (shown in the pic) to help people consider where they were, at that point of time, with God. As with every other time of doing ‘the journey’ with people we saw that as Christians, and even as Anglican Christians in one small cluster, we were literally all over the map and experiencing different things in our faith. I used this to illustrate that those we meet, and hope to reach, are also in very different places although it is easy to assume we are all in the same place in our Christian place and understanding.

The day was full of discussion and challenge as we looked at the difference between church planting and church birthing. If there was one particular emphasis in each session it was about knowing our community and the value of waiting and watching and learning how the community works.

I really believe that quite a lot of churches and mission initiatives skip this important stage of waiting, or do it for too little a time because the Protestant work ethic demands we work and that we should be busy. It is a lot easier to do things and set things up than it is to seriously ground to a halt and watch and wait. But on Saturday I challenged people to wait, to observe, to learn, to notice gaps, to look for connections and then …. and only then … to think about developing something that is relevant to what’s been observed.

This promoted a good discussion and I want to thank everyone for the way they engaged with what I’d planned and for the challenge they gave to me when we disagreed …. and I would have been disappointed if we didn’t disagree! It’s through discussion and challenging each other that we are able to move forward.

it’s all about belonging. simples!

Yesterday I had a great day at Following the Missionary Spirit.

Great because it was good to catch up with friends I have not seen in a  little while, great because it is always energising to be in a room with lots of other people that are passionate about mission and see opportunities rather than barriers, and great because , as always, Archbishop Rowan imparted real pearls of wisdom.

There was simply loads packed into this day.
Some words that hit me:
‘we need to go further to stay where we need to be’ Martyn Atkins
‘we need to remember we work from a place of powerlessness’ Annie Kirke
‘the key to the future with fresh expressions is understanding what we have been given for the journey’ Bishop Graham Cray
and there was so much more …. but…

In particular I was challenged by Archbishops Rowan’s words on belonging. He challenged us to think why church should be of interest to people. We, church, should be interesting because the church speaks of the possibility of belonging. In the gospels. he reminded us, Jesus reaches out to those who think that they do not belong, and he taps them on the shoulder, causing them to turn around (repent) and realise that they do belong.

My whole current ministry, every incarnation of it that I can think of, is spent with people who tell me that they do not belong. Many of them think they are not good enough to belong anywhere.

Our role, my role as a missioner, is to remind such people that there is a place of belonging for them. That place is church, maybe not church that you or I recognise, but that is why my role is to create … and that’s quite exciting!

I left the day with a renewed commitment to take up the challenge …. to be with those who feel they don’t belong (that’s the easy bit) and show them that they do!

mixed sunday

The blog has been quiet for a while. The reason has been that I have been feeling pretty wordless since Monday and, in time, I will share this but it is not right to do so at the moment.

Last Sunday (am I really that far behind!) was a pretty good day. The day started by taking up a great opportunity to preach St. Augustines, a parish church (which happens to be the parish I live in), in which I have known some people for a little while. It was good to catch up with people and I seemed to get positive comments from my sermon, which got some people asking questions – which is always my aim when I preach! I came away thinking this is a great parish church looking at ways in which it can engage well with it’s community.

In the afternoon we had the first gathering of 2012. I guess we are developing a way of working or ‘tradition’; and it seems to be a developing tradition that at the start of the year we do ‘the journey’ which I have blogged a lot about elsewhere.

The journey gives us a safe opportunity to consider where we are with God and where other members of the community are. It reminds us that the Christian life is a journey of good and bad, of joy and sadness, of cruising and battling. It reminds us that all of these stages are valid, all are necessary, and so all are ‘right’ places to be in in their season. Most importantly, it reminds us, and shows the younger members of our community, that Christianity is real and we don’t need to pretend it is easy. It shows that having difficulties and questioning God are not signs of ‘back-sliding’ but are actually signs of discipleship being taken seriously.

Last Sunday – two totally different gatherings, but both rooted in prayer, faith and worship of the Creator God. That inclusiveness and commitment to engaging with a theological diversity is one of the things I love about the Church of England!

1000 fresh expressions …

The latest survey on attendance has, for the first time, researched Fresh Expressions and the news is both exciting and encouraging. This paragraph from the report quoted on the Fresh Expressions website show that the bold step a few years to try something different os starting to make a difference:

The first ever statistical analysis of fresh expressions of church has concluded that there are at least 1,000 CofE fresh expressions or new congregations across the country. Around 30,000 people attend fresh expressions each month who don’t attend traditional regular services, equating to an average of around 40 people per participating parish exploring new forms of church – the statistical equivalent of an additional diocese. Almost all dioceses have reported fresh expressions or new congregations with over half of these initiatives aimed at families with young children.

While that is exciting I read this with just a tad of frustration. I still come across senior church people that tell me ‘fresh expressions is not working‘  or that ‘fresh expressions will not exist in 3 years time‘ alongside Beth Keith’s research which quotes, ‘Many pioneers, while affirming the principle of the mixed economy, did not have positive experiences of working within it. Whilst they were aware of the pressures felt by the wider Church through declining attendance and resources, they were frustrated that the maintenance of existing churches reduced the opportunities and resources for mission and evangelism. For example: pioneers repeatedly reported issues with mixed posts where pioneering aspects were not clearly defined. Maintaining existing churches, fulfilling traditional curacy requirements, or working in church structures remained an ongoing pressure greatly reducing the opportunities for mission

I sense across the nation a certain ‘attitude’ within church (not everywhere but in lots of places) that was there towards people involved in full time Christian youth ministry. It was an attitude or belief that these youth ministers were just doing this work for a little while before moving in to real ministry. By real ministry was meant work in church with adults.

Sadly from discussions with others I think that attitude with pioneers up and down the country still exists …. the attitude that says ‘pioneers are doing this for a period and soon they will ‘grow up’ and want to do real ministry.‘ This time the real ministry refers to traditional church ministry.

Personally …. i don’t see my ministry that way … and my hope is that this piece of research will allow us all to acknowledge the real contribution that Fresh Expressions is making.

meal of passion!

The gathering ate together last night at our home. A great experience with a good chance to share where we are at, what we are doing and how things are going.

Between our main course and pudding we thought a bit about our passions and our talents which led into a discussion of how the gathering reflects these and in fact whether, as an expression of church, that it should.

I adapted an exercise that Jonny put me on to last week but for our purposes concentrated on just passions and talents. It was interesting, although not surprising, to see that a lot of our values matched. There was a lot of passions around justice, family, friends and fun. Those values were expressed in various forms across the whole age span of the community from 7 years to 40 something. It was personally exciting to see the children speak of ‘against poverty’ and ‘championing the needs of people’.

Creativity was also a recognised passion and while we think we are a creative community we are painfully aware that we are not a community that is yet involved in doing something to lesson the injustices we see around us.

In our discussion we started to think and explore about how we might address this and also how our location might enable our mission to make a difference where we are. I think we all agree that although the crypt is a special and particularly sacred space, that is is not the correct space for the gathering to use in the way we use it.

We have become a community that spends a lot of time being creative and worship is fun and challenging. But, we never got together to spends lots of time planning great worship; we got together because we wish to explore being church in a way that makes a transformative difference to our community.

So for our next gathering we are looking to meet somewhere new and explore the advent and Christmas theme by asking local organisations ‘how can we help you make a difference?’ or ‘what is needed’ and see if there is any way we can respond.

Last night was a really positive and exciting gathering … not this time because of creative worship, but this time because of a shared passion to make a difference.

Please pray for us as we seek to move forward.

Larger churches and fx

The Church Army’s latest research bulletin has some interesting articles and helps with an ongoing discussion. The bulletin is particularly asking:

Are larger churches a help or a hindrance in our mission to reach the non-churched?
Are they a relic from the past, or a vision of the future?
Do they limit maturity or create the right environment for growth?
If we look closely at the numbers, is the numerical growth we see actually hiding the number of people leaving through the back door?
Are there ways they could better cater for those who are struggling?
Is their theology too rigid for people searching for deeper answers?
How does one decide what maturity looks like for church communities; is it individual or relational?

Steve Hollinghurst kicks the paper off by asking, intriguingly, whether we can learn anything from larger retailers and how they have operated in a  changing world. He ends  by suggesting, rightly in my opinion, that ‘a greater diversity of churches is needed, but not a greater commercialisation of them.’

Go have a read here