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Drawing from many years of experience being involved with fresh expressions and new ways of being church, here members of the team explore areas of insight which have emerged from their experience. We welcome your comments and thoughts. Please feel free to e-mail us at admin@acpi.org.uk .

To see a complete list of articles, click here.



Church Army Fresh Expressions Report Summary

Church_research

  

A 26 page summary of the Church Army Research Unit's research into Fresh Expressions of Church is now available, and can be downloaded here .

For futher details and to download the full report, click here

 
Some frameworks to explore Messy Church and discipleship

 Some frameworks to explore Messy Church and discipleship

We often hear Mike Breen saying that “if you focus on making church you won’t necessarily end up with disciples, whereas if you focus on making disciples of Jesus you are bound to end up with church.” The observation has also been made that Jesus said, “I will build my church” but commissioned us to “go and make disciples”. So my focus in this chapter will be exploring ‘messy’ as church through seeking to better understand discipleship.


To download Bob Hopkins' chapter entitled "Some frameworks to explore Messy Church and discipleship" form the recently published Messy Church Theology book, follow the link below. 

http://www.acpi.org.uk/Joomla/images//messy%20church%20-%20chapter%202%20%282%29.doc

 
To speak or not to speak of Attractional Church

To speak or not to speak of Attractional Church, that is the question

Contexts are different around the world and even within one country ... and furthermore they are changing rapidly. Not only that but how we understand language is different from place to place, even within a single language group like English ... and now even in one place the meaning that we put on particular words is changing.

Faced with this problem, Mike Breen blogs about why he will no longer use the term Attractional Church... and Bob Hopkins, a close colleague but working on the other side of the "Pond", responds with an explanation of why and how it will continue in his vocabulary!

Read more...
 
Messy Church - Principles concerning Nurture & Discipleship

Messy Church – Principles concerning Nurture & Discipleship

 

It is essential to recognise that Christian nurture and discipleship are happening in Messy Church events/communities:

Read more...
 
‘Major impact’ of fresh expressions of church: new research

‘Major impact’ of fresh expressions of church: new research

Fresh expressions of church are having a major impact on growth in the Church of England – according to research released on Thursday, January 16, 2014.
 
The detailed study, involving all fresh expressions of church in 10 dioceses, was carried out by the Church Army’s Research Unit for the Church Commissioners. Canon Dr George Lings, the Unit’s Director, said, ‘Nothing else in the Church of England has this level of missional impact and the effect of adding further ecclesial communities.’ 
Read more...
 
Enabling Church Planting

To download a free copy of the Enabling Church Planting workbook, click here

This workbook is intended as a tool-kit to help a church through the process of planting a new church. For those who simply want to learn more about the subject, it offers a good overview of the processes involved. But its principal aim is to provide planting teams and their leaders with resources and photocopiable material to generate discussion, aid decisions and bring the whole church along with the vision.

 
Post- Christendom...Not so simple

 

According to sociologists we are living in the post- generation. We have rejected the institutions and values that were trusted in the world of modernism to enter post-modernity; we have left behind the absolute truths of structuralism to embrace a post-structural mindset. And we have witnessed the demise of the social dominance of the church, and so we are told we have entered post-Christendom. In the last few years this has increasingly become the language we have used to describe the mission context and challenge in today’s Western world. But we want to raise a question over this and suggest that this description used to sum up our context is in fact misleading. Indeed, not only may it be an inaccurate assessment, but it may cause us to misread the appropriate range of mission responses that we need in this complex new context and unnecessarily narrow our options.

 

Now Christendom and its complexity as well as its weaknesses has been very thoroughly analysed by Stuart Murray-Williams in his book of that title. We might summarise Christendom as a description applying to countries and cultures where the Judeo-Christian tradition shaped the worldview, values, laws and norms of society, and where the relationships between church and state and secular institutions became intricately inter-woven. To be sure, this Christendom is no longer the force it once was in Western society. But it is our contention that whilst it’s been in rapid decline for a century, it is not true to conclude that it has completely disappeared. Its affects and holds in England have substantially declined but it is not “post” in the sense of gone and forgotten.  Furthermore, the rate of decline and the aspects most affected by the decline have varied in different European countries... so that even within the UK, Northern Ireland shows stronger remnants of Christendom than does England. And further a field in Europe, Finland in a different way also has some very strong manifestations of Christendom even though church attendance may be among the lowest. And then even in England there are more vestiges of Christendom remaining in rural communities than suburban, more in parts of the North then the South.

 

There is no doubt that the church’s voice carries much less authority than it used to, especially in guiding decisions and behaviour, and in some areas it may sound more of an echo than a voice – repetitions of an old message, not representative of what needs to be said now – but to be diminished is not to be dead. Post-Christendom suggests that Christendom has gone. That it lives only in the past, and though it may be something we remember and even celebrate, it carries as little authority over today’s world as the times of the absolute monarchy. This, we would suggest, is overstating the situation!

 

It is certainly true that as a dominant all pervading and unifying cultural grid it has gone. But the term post-Christendom can give the wrong impression that its effects can now be ignored. Christendom may be disintegrating, being eroded by other forces, but it is far from gone. The actual context we find ourselves in is one characterised by rapid change and a mixture of influences – one of which remains the Christian faith, worldview and assumptions about church, even if it has become diluted in a sea of materialism, the free market, self-governance, individualism, consumerism and evolutionism and the search for comfort. There are still many values, assumptions and expectations that shape society and culture beyond the church, which survive from Christendom. And the landscape continues to be populated with churches that in so many ways are defined by Christendom. In current language, this is what now may be referred to as being the “inherited mode” of church.

 

So parts of Christendom still exist and still carry sway over some areas of society, both within and without the church. But then there are so many other voices clamouring for the attention of the masses, and all claiming some degree or other of influence over people’s assumptions and identity. The question is, given we find ourselves in this fast-changing state of mixed identity, how can the church effectively respond, to the mixture of residual Christendom and to the complexity of what is coined as post-Christendom culture?

 

The answer in part lies in what, following the Mission-shaped Church report, Archbishop Rowan Williams has called the need for a mixed economy church – continuing to bless, encourage and grow the inherited mode of church, whilst simultaneously resourcing and releasing fresh expressions of church to emerge from within our diverse society.  And it is precisely because there is much of Christendom that still hangs around in our culture that inherited patterns of church can, with adaptation, still have significant missional effectiveness. We would like to suggest that within this mixed economy response it will be helpful to recognise the following principles, which respond to elements which remain from both Christendom as well as from increasing post-Christendom:

 

Principle 1: There are three strategically appropriate missional responses we can make to the context we find ourselves in, of ranging strengths of Christendom and post- Christendom. These responses can be summarised as being Attractional (they come to us), Engaged (we go to them and bring them back) and Emerging (we go to them and stay to discover what their sort of church would look like). These are described and unpacked further in an earlier ACPI web article expanding on Hirsch & Frost’s two categories – Making Sense of Emerging Church (click here to read). The key value of understanding these three responses is that it releases us to be context specific. We don’t need to ditch Attractional thinking if there are significant threads within the context that are still derived from Christendom; whereas in contexts where Christendom has much less sway, a more Engaged approach may be appropriate; or then again if what we see is post-Christendom more fully taking hold, then Emerging strategies are likely to work best.

 

Principle 2: From these three strategies come three likely outcomes. Firstly, in the case of Attractional approaches, inherited church models can be on a journey to missional effectiveness in contexts which continue to be significantly affected by Christendom. At the other end of the scale, if we find ourselves in a context best suited to Emerging approaches, then we can plant fresh expressions of church. Or thirdly, some churches are becoming mixed economy in themselves and developing both the cultures of Go and Bring. They are becoming blended in that sense. Examples of this may lie in forms of church that are developing cells and mid-sized clusters or missional communities. Or in those that are combining a building, Sunday centred congregation with all sorts of fresh expressions of church.

 

Principle 3: In the development of any healthy mission initiative, be it congregation, group, missional community or project, there are three elements that must be considered, understood and then integrated. We call this process mission match-making.  The three elements are: a clearly defined mission field that can then be researched and understood, matched up with a mobilised and focused mission force (or team), which in turn develops an appropriate mission strategy for engaging the context within the resources of the team (for more on this click here to read our web article – Mission Match-Making).

 

Principle 4: There are at least three routes to releasing movements of mission. First, inherited churches that grow large, instead of becoming Attractional mega-churches, can become Transitional churches – releasing a multiplying network of groups, such as mid-size missional communities (for more on this click here). Second, a movement of the type of organic church or simple church can be initiated and spread. Or thirdly, one church that pioneers a successful fresh expression can seek passionate pioneers within that expression who can be released and coached to plant the same fruitful model elsewhere, so beginning multiplication. This is like ‘infecting’ all sorts of inherited churches with a virus to multiply a single type of fresh expression. This is an idea we first picked up being implemented by Phil Potter in Liverpool diocese. The fresh expression multiplied from inherited church to inherited church could be one of the now well known types such as Messy Church, Café Church, but could be any other such as council estate church.

 

Each of these four principles offers us both understanding and strategy as we seek to respond to the declining position of Christendom within a rapidly changing world. However, if we truly want our response to be empowered by the Holy Spirit then there is one key attitude we must carry – a high value on the diversity and potential of the whole Body of Christ. This means that, rather than different church ‘tribes’ criticising one another, having prideful attitudes that they are it (the radical edge!), a mixed economy church will only produce kingdom transformation if it is fired by mutual love and respect. With this covenant foundation for our expectation and hope combined with openness to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to pray and work for more of God’s kingdom mission of reconciling all his people and all of his creation to himself and one another, in these changing times.

 

 

 
Post- Christendom...Not so simple

 

According to sociologists we are living in the post- generation. We have rejected the institutions and values that were trusted in the world of modernism to enter post-modernity; we have left behind the absolute truths of structuralism to embrace a post-structural mindset. And we have witnessed the demise of the social dominance of the church, and so we are told we have entered post-Christendom. In the last few years this has increasingly become the language we have used to describe the mission context and challenge in today’s Western world. But we want to raise a question over this and suggest that this description used to sum up our context is in fact misleading. Indeed, not only may it be an inaccurate assessment, but it may cause us to misread the appropriate range of mission responses that we need in this complex new context and unnecessarily narrow our options.

 

Now Christendom and its complexity as well as its weaknesses has been very thoroughly analysed by Stuart Murray-Williams in his book of that title. We might summarise Christendom as a description applying to countries and cultures where the Judeo-Christian tradition shaped the worldview, values, laws and norms of society, and where the relationships between church and state and secular institutions became intricately inter-woven. To be sure, this Christendom is no longer the force it once was in Western society. But it is our contention that whilst it’s been in rapid decline for a century, it is not true to conclude that it has completely disappeared. Its affects and holds in England have substantially declined but it is not “post” in the sense of gone and forgotten.  Furthermore, the rate of decline and the aspects most affected by the decline have varied in different European countries... so that even within the UK, Northern Ireland shows stronger remnants of Christendom than does England. And further a field in Europe, Finland in a different way also has some very strong manifestations of Christendom even though church attendance may be among the lowest. And then even in England there are more vestiges of Christendom remaining in rural communities than suburban, more in parts of the North then the South.

 

There is no doubt that the church’s voice carries much less authority than it used to, especially in guiding decisions and behaviour, and in some areas it may sound more of an echo than a voice – repetitions of an old message, not representative of what needs to be said now – but to be diminished is not to be dead. Post-Christendom suggests that Christendom has gone. That it lives only in the past, and though it may be something we remember and even celebrate, it carries as little authority over today’s world as the times of the absolute monarchy. This, we would suggest, is overstating the situation!

 

It is certainly true that as a dominant all pervading and unifying cultural grid it has gone. But the term post-Christendom can give the wrong impression that its effects can now be ignored. Christendom may be disintegrating, being eroded by other forces, but it is far from gone. The actual context we find ourselves in is one characterised by rapid change and a mixture of influences – one of which remains the Christian faith, worldview and assumptions about church, even if it has become diluted in a sea of materialism, the free market, self-governance, individualism, consumerism and evolutionism and the search for comfort. There are still many values, assumptions and expectations that shape society and culture beyond the church, which survive from Christendom. And the landscape continues to be populated with churches that in so many ways are defined by Christendom. In current language, this is what now may be referred to as being the “inherited mode” of church.

 

So parts of Christendom still exist and still carry sway over some areas of society, both within and without the church. But then there are so many other voices clamouring for the attention of the masses, and all claiming some degree or other of influence over people’s assumptions and identity. The question is, given we find ourselves in this fast-changing state of mixed identity, how can the church effectively respond, to the mixture of residual Christendom and to the complexity of what is coined as post-Christendom culture?

 

The answer in part lies in what, following the Mission-shaped Church report, Archbishop Rowan Williams has called the need for a mixed economy church – continuing to bless, encourage and grow the inherited mode of church, whilst simultaneously resourcing and releasing fresh expressions of church to emerge from within our diverse society.  And it is precisely because there is much of Christendom that still hangs around in our culture that inherited patterns of church can, with adaptation, still have significant missional effectiveness. We would like to suggest that within this mixed economy response it will be helpful to recognise the following principles, which respond to elements which remain from both Christendom as well as from increasing post-Christendom:

 

Principle 1: There are three strategically appropriate missional responses we can make to the context we find ourselves in, of ranging strengths of Christendom and post- Christendom. These responses can be summarised as being Attractional (they come to us), Engaged (we go to them and bring them back) and Emerging (we go to them and stay to discover what their sort of church would look like). These are described and unpacked further in an earlier ACPI web article expanding on Hirsch & Frost’s two categories – Making Sense of Emerging Church (click here to read). The key value of understanding these three responses is that it releases us to be context specific. We don’t need to ditch Attractional thinking if there are significant threads within the context that are still derived from Christendom; whereas in contexts where Christendom has much less sway, a more Engaged approach may be appropriate; or then again if what we see is post-Christendom more fully taking hold, then Emerging strategies are likely to work best.

 

Principle 2: From these three strategies come three likely outcomes. Firstly, in the case of Attractional approaches, inherited church models can be on a journey to missional effectiveness in contexts which continue to be significantly affected by Christendom. At the other end of the scale, if we find ourselves in a context best suited to Emerging approaches, then we can plant fresh expressions of church. Or thirdly, some churches are becoming mixed economy in themselves and developing both the cultures of Go and Bring. They are becoming blended in that sense. Examples of this may lie in forms of church that are developing cells and mid-sized clusters or missional communities. Or in those that are combining a building, Sunday centred congregation with all sorts of fresh expressions of church.

 

Principle 3: In the development of any healthy mission initiative, be it congregation, group, missional community or project, there are three elements that must be considered, understood and then integrated. We call this process mission match-making.  The three elements are: a clearly defined mission field that can then be researched and understood, matched up with a mobilised and focused mission force (or team), which in turn develops an appropriate mission strategy for engaging the context within the resources of the team (for more on this click here to read our web article – Mission Match-Making).

 

Principle 4: There are at least three routes to releasing movements of mission. First, inherited churches that grow large, instead of becoming Attractional mega-churches, can become Transitional churches – releasing a multiplying network of groups, such as mid-size missional communities (for more on this click here). Second, a movement of the type of organic church or simple church can be initiated and spread. Or thirdly, one church that pioneers a successful fresh expression can seek passionate pioneers within that expression who can be released and coached to plant the same fruitful model elsewhere, so beginning multiplication. This is like ‘infecting’ all sorts of inherited churches with a virus to multiply a single type of fresh expression. This is an idea we first picked up being implemented by Phil Potter in Liverpool diocese. The fresh expression multiplied from inherited church to inherited church could be one of the now well known types such as Messy Church, Café Church, but could be any other such as council estate church.

 

Each of these four principles offers us both understanding and strategy as we seek to respond to the declining position of Christendom within a rapidly changing world. However, if we truly want our response to be empowered by the Holy Spirit then there is one key attitude we must carry – a high value on the diversity and potential of the whole Body of Christ. This means that, rather than different church ‘tribes’ criticising one another, having prideful attitudes that they are it (the radical edge!), a mixed economy church will only produce kingdom transformation if it is fired by mutual love and respect. With this covenant foundation for our expectation and hope combined with openness to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to pray and work for more of God’s kingdom mission of reconciling all his people and all of his creation to himself and one another, in these changing times.

 

 

 
Planter's Beware!
plantersbeware.jpg

Over the years we have seen that those embarking on pioneering something completely new seem to be particularly vulnerable in the process. It seems that planting a new church, initiating a fresh expression of church has its particular dangers.

We first noticed this back over a decade ago when we were shocked by five tragic breakdowns in church planting teams over a two year period. Most of these were team leaders leaving their spouse and leaving the project with another one of the planting team.

Different traditions express the spiritual battle of the Kingdom of God in different ways. But the New Testament is very clear about the reality of the force of evil, of the conflict between darkness and light. Paul knew very well the seriousness of “the warfare we wage…” And Jesus challenged about a broad way that leads to destruction and a narrow path to life.

Our observations over several decades is that while all ministry and mission has its pressures and vulnerability, crossing boundaries, going to where the need seems greater, may be particularly contested. And our reflections have led us to think there may be several reasons for this, some natural and some more spiritual.

Natural Pressures

Ask someone who has started a new business or developed a major project from scratch. They will say that it took concentrated focus, great energy and loads of sacrifice. This is no less true of pioneering in the Kingdom of God. These pressures can lead to burnout or just overwork and this can expose vulnerable areas in our lives.

As well as the demands of single minded focus and exceptional energy, starting from nothing in a new context involves loads of change which can be draining as well as exhilarating. And along with navigating uncharted waters is a higher than normal level of risk. All of these things are challenges to a leader’s inner security. Planting is a melting pot which involves faith being stretched and put to many tests. Disappointments and setbacks can come thick and fast and can easily lead to frustration or disillusionment.

The double-edged blessing of team

At the heart of planting new church or fresh expression is the recovery of the team as the engine of mission. The missionary band is an amazing blessing when all are committed to the unifying vision and sold out to the common objective of a new church. Team members can find their gifts and discover how they complement one another which should be a uniquely fulfilling experience.

But precisely this blessing of the intensity of team relationships and the bonds forged gives the opportunity for inappropriate depth and intimacy to develop if all are not alert to and defending against this possibility. And often the spouse can be as vulnerable as the partner who is ministering alongside another attractive team member.

Here, the factors of pressure and overwork referred to in the previous section can heighten these dangers. Again they are as real for the overworking team leader or member as they may be for the neglected spouse.

Then of course there is also the very real possibility that team relationships that are meant to express the blessings of synergy may in fact produce tensions and fracture instead. The defence is again to do with inner security that is comfortable with difference, combined with a full understanding of team member’s gifts, motivations and personalities.

Spiritual factors

On the unseen level it seems that our enemy, however understood, particularly hates initiatives that break new ground. Somehow it seems that when rather than strengthening an existing church, we move out to seek to occupy some new context, a particular “battle front” opens up. Certainly we see Paul contending with all sorts of opposition without and within as he moved out in his church planting missionary journeys.

We have also noticed a trend that when early planting successes or breakthroughs recieve significant prominence and publicity… a “kick-back” often seems to follow. Whatever the explanation this has proved real enough that whenever we tell the story of a plant or fresh expression of church, we try to remember to pray for them. So this now leads us to look at our responses.

Natural and spiritual answers:

Prayer:

Obviously prayer is our first and most significant response to protect from both the spiritual and natural pressures and pitfalls. As well as prayers of protection we need prayers for wisdom and discernment. Then again as Paul exhorts in Galatians 6, prayer needs to come from taking a clear spiritual stand on the authority we have in Christ and may need to move to a more aggressive dimension of spiritual warfare. 

Preparedness:

Both Paul and Peter emphasise the importance of “be on our guard!”. This means both individually and as a team recognising the areas of potential danger and not underestimating their seriousness and subtlety. This will include creating a culture of openness and honesty within the leadership and team. ‘Never underestimate the enemy’ and ‘never relax your guard’ should be watch words.

Processes:

These safeguards of prayer and preparedness need to be worked out with routines and disciplines, both individually and as a team.

Part of team formation and training should include explaining and exploring the vulnerabilities we have outlined here. And since marital breakdown and unfaithfulness are particular hazards these possibilities should be faced head on and not avoided through embarrassment or false assumtions of strength. Standard texts such as “His needs: Her needs” by William Harley and “Lonely Husbands, Lonely Wives” by Denis Rainey, should be studied and discussed. These explore the cause and chemistry of emotional adultery that precedes breakdown. They highlight the danger signs to be spotted and make the points that:

·         “there are more than one way to have an affair”

·         “if any of a spouses basic needs goes unmet, that spouse becomes vulnerable to the temptation of an affair”

·         “An extramarital affair is basically an escape from reality that begins with feeling lonely, isolated, tired or stressed and ends with a search for fulfilment of needs outside the marriage.”

Building on processes that periodically face the dangers, there need to be accountability relationships within and outside the team. These re-enforce good practices of strengthening marriages (e.g. regular marriage night) and knowing the “10 second rule”. The books cited here have good questions to ask one another both between married couples and accountability pairings.

 

 

 
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