A Guide to Fresh Expressions and Micro-Communities

Discover how these modern church models are engaging new communities, bridging gaps, and creating inclusive environments for people to explore their faith journey.

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Welcome to Season 4 of Pivot, a Christian podcast that delves into innovative church models, Fresh Expressions of church, and church transformation.

This season, we are excited to explore the concept of church ecology, which includes community-based church and micro-Christian communities. 

This season includes

  • Inspiring stories of church leaders who are making a difference in the church through innovative models and Fresh Expressions.
  • The discovery of how churches of all different sorts are working together to reach people with the hope of Jesus in today’s culture.
  • How demographic-based faith communities and shared interests and hobbies are being used to enhance spiritual growth and the faith journey.

Terri Elton returns with new co-hosts Dr. Dee Stokes and Dwight Zscheile, who will bring their expertise in faith-based communities and Christian innovation to the conversation.

Key Highlights from Episode 1 include:

  • Fresh Expressions are new forms of micro-Christian Communities that have emerged within contemporary culture and engage primarily with those who don’t go to church.
  • Fresh Expressions originated in the UK as a response to the declining number of people attending traditional churches.
  • Many people today find the institutional church inhospitable for asking life’s big questions. Fresh Expression communities primarily engage with those who don’t go to church, which offers one way to address this challenge.
  • People want to belong before they believe. In the traditional model, churches try to get people to believe first, then belong to the church. In the Fresh Expressions model, people have the ability to belong, and then believe. The approach is inclusive and holistic, allowing for the exploration of spiritual questions in the context of the community.

How are micro-Christian communities transforming the church?

As we prepared for this season, Terri and Dwight took a trip to the United Kingdom, where they experienced the concept of mixed ecology in church transformation firsthand.

In most Western European countries, such as the U.K., the trend of secularization is on the rise.

And only a small percentage of the population is connected to any church, which poses a challenge for church leaders to reach out to these individuals.

To adapt to these trends, the U.K. has been experimenting for the last 20 years with what they’ve coined as “Fresh Expressions.” 

Fresh Expressions are new forms of Christian community or church that engage primarily with those who don’t go to church. They are common within preexisting peer-to-peer network spaces where people are already connected in the neighborhood in various ways, creating lively partnerships.

As a result of this experimentation, the remarkable thing the UK churches uncovered about “Fresh Expressions” is the ability for it to coexist and thrive alongside inherited forms of church, such as traditional forms of church and neighborhood churches.

This concept of a “mixed ecology” is a rich way for us to learn from and consider in our own church transformation efforts. It’s a way to reach people with the hope of Jesus by meeting them where they are in a context that is familiar to them.

How can small group communities foster spiritual growth?

What’s unique about Fresh Expressions is that laypeople primarily lead them, and the movement has been successful in getting laypeople interested in reaching out to their communities.

Dr. Dee Stokes brings her experience working with Fresh Expressions in North America to the conversation. In Episode 1, she emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that people sitting in the pews also have ministries and vision, and Fresh Expressions have done a great job of tapping into this. The movement’s moniker is…

“…not holding signs up at the church but actually crossing the bridge into the community.”

What are some successful examples of micro-Christian communities?

Fresh Expressions of North America has taken this model from the UK churches and done an excellent job of training laypeople to lead ministries in their communities. Some individuals even relocate themselves to the communities they serve, which has changed the landscape of the church and will continue to do so.

By emphasizing laypeople-led ministries and community engagement, Fresh Expressions have shown that the church can connect with people where they are and make a difference in their people’s lives.

In these regards, we begin to recognize the concept of “incarnation,” which refers to the body of Christ becoming embodied in local times and places. When the church is embedded in local life in a transformational way, it can transform local culture.

This is done by encouraging both clergy and laypeople to be involved in leadership. However, the key is to listen to one’s context and understand what works best for the community. By doing so, the church can be present incarnationally with neighbors in today’s culture.

Some fantastic examples of successful Fresh Expressions are currently happening in various locations across the U.S. For instance, in Florida, a group started a Fresh Expression around surfing, where they would connect with surfers who have conversations about faith. In Ohio, a Fresh Expression was started around gardening, where the community would come together and work on a garden while also having conversations about faith. And in Minnesota, a Fresh Expression was started around video games, where the group would play games together on Twitch and discuss questions of faith and meaning.

These Fresh Expressions demonstrate the power of contextualizing ministry and meeting people where they are. It’s an exciting approach to church innovation and transformation that can make a real difference in people’s lives.

How can churches incorporate micro-Christian communities into their structures?

We often find that people have questions and feel uncomfortable asking them in the traditional church setting that was developed for a different era and cultural moment. As a result, many people today find the institutional church inhospitable for asking life’s big questions. With primarily engaging with those who don’t go to church, Fresh Expressions offer one way to address this challenge.

Having the ability to contextualize ministry and leadership and meet people where they are can build trustworthy communities and create spaces for people to ask life’s big questions. By speaking clearly in a language, people can understand and embed themselves in local life; Fresh Expressions demonstrate the power of contextualizing the gospel for today’s culture.

In many instances, we find that there’s a reluctance to trust non-theologically trained individuals to lead the church, which can hinder the growth of these Fresh Expressions of faith. However, we believe that by shifting the church’s mindset and empowering lay leaders, the church can create a more participatory environment and reach more people.

The performative model of ministry, where clergy are expected to “perform” Christian faith for people, is breaking down in a culture that is much more participatory now. Instead of a clergy-led, lay-supported model, the church can adopt a lay-led, clergy-supported model. This shift can be difficult for established church leaders to make, but it’s necessary for Fresh Expressions of faith to thrive.

Being open to this will give way for clergy to trust their entrepreneurial spirit and reimagine how they relate to and lead their congregations. Meanwhile, lay leaders can be empowered to gather people in the name of Jesus, create community, and serve their neighbors.

By embracing the lay-led, clergy-supported model, the church can create a more dynamic and engaging community that reaches more people and fosters spiritual growth.

The shift from a clergy-led model to a lay-led model is essential for Fresh Expressions to co-exist alongside the Traditional Church’s ecosystem. It empowers ordinary disciples who are already embedded in those communities where people aren’t going to church. They have more credibility than clergy do and have relationships with the people in those communities.

The role of clergy in this model is to equip people to be mature disciples of Jesus in daily life so that everyone owns their spiritual growth in the community together in engagement with the practices of the faith and the tradition. The approach is more formative than performative, which means that everyone is engaging with the scripture, telling stories, and collaborating with the neighbors in a much more participatory way.

The key is to listen, love people, and explore spiritual questions with them. It’s important to recognize that everyone has interests and hobbies that can be incorporated into the church. Fresh Expressions can be as simple as finding three or four people who share the same hobby, initiating a conversation about Jesus, and doing that hobby together. It’s about interacting with others and building relationships, which is at the heart of being a church transforming the lives with the love of Jesus in our modern society.

How does spiritual growth happen in micro-Christian communities?

In the upcoming episodes, we will learn about the origin of Fresh Expressions in the UK and hear stories and examples of how Fresh Expressions are taking shape in different places, such as messy church (a micro-Christian community for families), forest church (a micro-Christian community for nature lovers), dinner church (we’ll hear about in episode 7 with JD Larson) and other forms of Fresh Expressions from our community members like you.

Join the conversation! Do you think embracing Christian micro-communities could help engage more people and adapt to our ever-changing society? Cast your vote now in our Instagram Story Poll and stay turned into our podcast to see how your peers voted. #FreshExpressionsImpact

This season, you’ll hear from guests who are experts and practitioners as they share their experiences and lessons learned from doing this work in various contexts. 

They will provide resources and imagination to take the next step for those who are everyday disciples, local pastors, or denominational leaders looking to lead through faithful innovation, looking to answer questions like,

  • How can churches incorporate micro-Christian communities into their existing structures?
  • How can church leaders encourage lay people to get involved in micro-Christian communities and incorporate an innovative church model within their existing church and congregation?
  • What are some successful examples of micro-Christian communities and their impact on the church environment?

In our next episode, where we’ll dive into the origin of Fresh Expressions in the United Kingdom with our guest Michael Moynagh.

Be sure to subscribe to the Pivot Podcast to get notified when the next episode is available!

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