Egg hunt can be a Fresh Expression of the church!

Posted: March 26, 2018 by efenster in Ideas, Information
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Fresh-Expressions-LogoDoes your church have four people who would be willing to intentionally engage together in their community for four hours a week and give $40 a month to cover their ministry costs?  If so, you’ve got the potential to start a Fresh Expressions ministry, according to Barry Sloan.  It’s that simple!  You don’t need a lot of training, a pastor leading it, programming or curriculum.  What you do need is a willingness to leave the comfort of your church to love on those out in your community.

Lagrange First United Methodist Church has done just that.  Two laywomen years ago started going to a rural mobile home community called Pioneer Estates and began sharing Christ’s love in tangible ways.  These women started by using clowning and magic tricks as a way to engage with the community’s children.  Eventually the church began serving the children weekly by providing a home-cooked meal, sharing Bible stories, singing and doing crafts.  The church’s United Methodist Women provide the milk and birthday cakes.

imagesA year ago the parents of the children asked if the church would help them put on an Easter egg hunt at Pioneer Estates, and they invited the church’s children to come out and join their kids.  Sure enough the church said, “yes,” and kids from the church joined in.  The result of all of this is a Fresh Expression of the church where both children and their parents are experiencing the love of Christ even though they live in a very transient, rough, rural community.

Unknown-2Earlier this month Barry Sloan, a Methodist pastor from Northern Ireland who is serving as a missionary to The United Methodist Church in Germany, shared with a hundred laity and clergy from the Indiana Conference his first-hand experience leading a Fresh Expressions ministry in former East Germany, where 90% are atheists.  Obviously his Fresh Expressions ministry looks different than Lagrange First’s.  Yet there are some commonalities…

Missional–Incarnational.  It’s important to live in your mission field, to be with those you’re in ministry with, to be their neighbor.

Contextual–Listen.  Barry and his team of a half-dozen folks spent their first 18 months simply listening to the needs of the people.  They spoke with community leaders, prayer walked, and looked for potential partners.  They realized they needed to adapt ministry to fit their mission field’s context.

Formational–Non Churchy.  (I made up that word not Barry!) Although making disciples is a priority, you don’t lead with traditional church programming–such as Bible studies, and worship.  You do discipling or theology, as Barry calls it, one-to-one, around tables, around a meal.  You lead with common interests, such as the arts, or community service efforts, such as clean-up projects.

Barry’s Fresh Expressions effort, called Inspire, offers meals and homework help for children, holds secular music concerts and stand-up comedy nights, offers German classes for Moslem refugees, has pitch-in dinners, and even whisky tasting events.  As a result, they’re reaching persons who would never enter a church.

Ecclesial–Unique.  The church emerges from the community that develops.  It’s all about building relationships and creating Christian community without calling it church.  It is highly likely that it will look quite different than what we think of as church, and yet the Gospel and God’s love is at the heart of it.

IMG_0786Some Hoosiers who attended Barry’s presentation felt as though he was saying that traditional church is wrong.  Not at all!  It’s a “both-and.”  We need our churches that do Bible studies and offer worship and to invite the unchurched to join us, but we also need to take the church to those outside our walls shedding our church structures and language and even programs if we’re to reach the hard core who have no interest in attending our churches and likely never will.

The reality is that that group is the growing slice of the population pie, even in Indiana.  We’ve got to figure out how to reach them and Fresh Expressions offers us a model to do just that.  It’s not the only model but it has proven effective in England where the model originated.  Even though the Methodist Church of England has the same number of members as the Indiana Conference, about 189,000, and both are declining, one in five Methodist churches in England have a Fresh Expressions and collectively they’re reaching 500,000 people each week!  Just think what would happen if we were to do that too!

So, does your church have four people willing to devote four hours a week and give $40 a month in order to share Christ’s love through a Fresh Expression of the church out in the community?  If so, encourage them, pray for them, and consider joining them!  Church Development is offering grants for up to $1,000 to help support such efforts.  Just contact those of us on the Church Development team or visit Indiana Conference’s website.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Developmentheadshots+2-0055

 

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