Exploring the Origins & Evolution of Fresh Expressions

Discover the Roots of Fresh Expressions as Michael Moynagh Shares Insights on the rise of UK's Community-Based Churches.

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Finding spiritual growth and meaningful connections within faith communities can be challenging in our increasingly diverse and complex world. 

Season 4 of the Pivot Podcast is dedicated to exploring one innovative approach that has been gaining traction, the concept of Fresh Expressions – new and accessible ways to foster Christian communities, discipleship, and spiritual development. 

In episode 2 of Pivot Podcast, hosts Terri Elton and Dwight Zscheile welcome Michael Moynagh, a minister in the Church of England, a missiologist, and a renowned author. After experiencing the ebbs and flows of cultivating, nurturing, and expanding the practice of Fresh Expressions, Michael highlights the importance of meeting people where they are. 

“The genius is in the simplicity, the accessibility, and the replicability.” 

Michael Moynagh

By understanding the needs, interests, and lifestyles of their neighbors, leaders of Fresh Expressions can create accessible and resonant spiritual experiences and supportive communities.

In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into key aspects of the origin and evolution of Fresh Expressions and share actionable insights to consider as you explore the adoption benefits of starting your own Fresh Expression or mico-Christian Community. 

The Organic Emergence of Fresh Expressions in the UK

The Fresh Expressions movement in the Church of England emerged as faith leaders realized that conventional evangelism and outreach events were not working to bring people to the church. 

Many people found existing churches alienating, and they had various reasons for not being able to attend on Sundays. 

Michael began questioning the necessity of bringing people to the church in a conventional way during his time leading a parish in the early 1990s. 

He observed that people not involved in the church would attend courses and other opportunities for spiritual connection, but they never came to church on Sundays. He wondered why he was trying to get them to participate in conventional church services when starting a separate effort for them would be more effective.

By listening to them and showing love in practical ways, he continued to engage in outreach activities, and communities continued to form. This movement grew organically as others both inside and outside of his congregation started to make contact with those who had never attended church. 

Michael recounts an example of a couple who formed such a community. They got to know the young people in the neighborhood who didn’t attend church, and invited them into their home. They would have tea and hang out together.

Michael said that in the context of these micro-communities, the gospel can be shared—and as people begin to come to faith, they form small congregations precisely where they are.

Eventually this movement caught the attention of the Church of England. They produced a report called the Mission-Shaped Church in 2004, which provided examples of these emerging micro-communities and called for the wider church to support these new expressions. As a result, then-Archbishop Rowan Williams prioritized giving space to these emerging church communities alongside more traditional models of Sunday worship.

The Fabric of Fresh Expressions – Explained

Michael Moynagh’s journey in developing missional communities was challenging. However, the various stories he shared demonstrate the organic nature of these communities and how they formed through simple acts of love and listening. 

One example involved a woman who noticed a need for parents to connect and hang out after dropping their kids off at school. So she organized weekly gatherings with coffee, croissants, and a space for conversation. Over time, these gatherings evolved into a small worshiping community that expanded to include partners and children.

According to Michael, these stories tend to follow a particular pattern or “missional journey.” It begins with listening to God and the people in the community. Through acts of love, like providing free food or a gathering space, a community forms. These inclusive spaces allow members to share their experiences of spirituality, eventually forming a worshipping community connected to the broader church. 

As the concept of Fresh Expressions began to spread throughout the UK, the focus shifted to identifying and training leaders to start new initiatives. 

Michael and his team hosted conversations with members of local churches to discuss their existing hobbies and interests and explore how they might add a spiritual component. Those interested in pursuing this path would then gather teams to learn and plan together. 

Intertwining Fresh Expression Communities with Traditional Practices of the Church

In these innovative expressions of church, it’s helpful to maintain connections with the broader church. Michael shared how these communities would begin to introduce the sacraments and traditions of the church gradually. 

For example, at first a community might share a meal together; then, eventually, the Fresh Expressions leaders would invite local ministers to preside over communion at some of their gatherings, reminding the community of their connection to the broader church.  

Alternatively, Michael said, leaders invited their Fresh Expression communities to join the parent church for celebrations at Easter, Pentecost, or Christmas. This approach helps to maintain a connection with the broader church while respecting the unique nature of these new worshiping communities.

Starting and Nurturing a Fresh Expressions micro-Christian Community

Over the last 15 years, the Church of England has learned how to create a movement across the UK that takes an accessible and replicable approach to forming new Christian communities. 

To help people share their faith and discuss Jesus, Michael recommended using a simple, non-threatening Bible study method that encourages open discussion. 

He suggested reading one of Jesus’ parables, and then asking these four questions: 

  1. What would the story look like if it happened today? 
  1. What is the story saying to you? 
  1. Could the story make a difference in your life? 
  1. Did the story make a difference in your life? 

These questions create a non-threatening space in which Christians and non-Christians can participate in the conversation.

5 Steps for Church Leaders to Incorporate Fresh Expressions in Their Existing Ministries

By identifying existing outreach activities and exploring ways to incorporate a spiritual dimension, clergy can support their people in transforming their congregations and creating and combining Fresh Expressions. 

Here are actionable insights and steps to begin adopting Fresh Expressions for your congregation:

  1. Reflect on your community’s unique needs and interests: Assess your local community’s demographics, culture, and lifestyle to determine the most effective and accessible ways to foster spiritual growth and connection.
  1. Create spaces for informal gatherings: Encourage the formation of small groups that meet in casual settings, such as coffee shops, parks, or homes. These gatherings can be focused on discussing faith and spirituality or engaging in acts of service together.
  1. Connect with traditional practices: While embracing new forms of worship and community, it’s helpful  to maintain connections with the broader church. Find ways to integrate informal remembrances with traditional practices, such as prayer and scripture reading. Eventually, you may be able to celebrate the sacraments in your Fresh Expression community.
  1. Collaborate with other faith communities: Reach out to other churches and faith-based organizations to share ideas, resources, and support. Collaboration can foster unity and provide opportunities for learning and growth across communities.
  1. Be open to change and adaptation: As you embark on your Fresh Expressions journey, remember that these new communities are meant to be flexible and adaptable. Be open to change and continuously evaluate the effectiveness of your approach, making adjustments as needed to serve your community better.

In the UK, a survey of people involved in fresh expressions of church and found significant improvements in various aspects of their spiritual lives. This illustrates the value of forming new Christian communities and encouraging people to be on a mission with other Christians. Involvement in these communities can lead to spiritual growth and increased faith, providing a focus for discipleship between Sundays.

Get More Faith-Based Community Insights in the Upcoming Episodes of Pivot, a Christian Podcast

The power of simplicity and accessibility in Fresh Expressions has given hope to revitalize faith communities and foster spiritual growth. 

By embracing new and innovative approaches to worship, connecting with traditional practices, and adapting to different contexts, these expressions of church can create meaningful connections and transform the lives of believers and non-believers. 

As you explore the possibilities of Fresh Expressions, remember the importance of meeting people where they are and creating spaces for authentic connection and spiritual development.

Join us in our next episode with guest Michael Beck, who will discuss how Fresh Expressions has adapted in North America. Together we’ll delve into the innovative ways faith communities are reimagining the church and fostering a diverse spiritual landscape.

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