Postcards from England: Fresh Expressions in Leicester Diocese

Over the next two weeks I have the very good fortune to be spending some time with key leaders in Methodist and Anglican Churches in parts of the United Kingdom, along with joining the Australian team at the 2017 Fresh Expressions International Learning Community alongside delegates from around the world.

Along the way I’ll fire back a postcard every couple of days to share some of what I’m learning and reflecting on as it relates to our own work within the Uniting Church in Queensland. In my conversations here I’m focusing particularly on topics such as leadership development, discipleship, fresh expressions and church planting. Your questions and comments are welcome below. If you’re not that interested in church and faith, you might want to skip these next few postcards.

Today’s first day included a briefing with Jonathan Dowman from the Leicester Anglican Diocese. Jonathan, along with Madds Morgan and Matt Pitt are the Diocese’s resourcing team for the developing fresh expressions of church in and around the communities of the diocese.

For those for whom fresh expressions might be a new concept, the standard definition used is that a fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.  In Queensland we’ve been exploring and encouraging the notion of Fresh Expressions through the conduct of the Mission Shaped Ministry Course which has been offered by Moreton Rivers, South Moreton and Bremer Brisbane Presbyteries in partnership with the synod over the past 3 years.

In a rich conversation, two things stuck out for me in this conversation with Leicester Diocese.

The first is that the Diocese have big, ambitious goals with respect to fresh expressions of church. They plan to have one fresh expression of church for every parish church within the diocese by 2030. That’s a total of around 300 fresh expressions. At this moment there are around 60 in existence, together with another approximately 100 mission initiatives that are exciting, but don’t quite bear all the hallmarks necessary to meet the diocese’s definition of a fresh expression. That’s a big goal. An unashamedly big goal. And to achieve it is going to take a huge investment of time, energy and resources, together with a willingness to dismantle anything in the diocesan system that might prevent them from progressing.

Are we quite so ready to discern and name such an ambitious goal? Are we willing to measure it? Monitor progress toward it? Put the necessary resources in place to help us achieve it?  Discerning and then naming ambitious targets can be a confronting task, and one that doesn’t always come easily for us. In the case of this diocese, it’s providing a sharp focus for the work the diocese is doing.

The second thing I found particularly interesting was a decision by the diocese that its mission resourcing staff would spend 75% of their time resourcing and supporting fresh expressions of church across the diocese, but be set aside for 25% of their time to lead a particular local fresh expression. That means their resource team are not only consultants and coaches, but practitioners who are on the ground trying to discern, plan and lead new expressions of church.

I couldn’t help but wonder might happen if we tasked presbytery and synod mission resourcing staff with using 25% of their time to discern, plan and lead a new expression of church in our own local context.

And naturally, I got to wondering what I would do if I was given permission to commit 25% of my time to a local project. Which idea that occasionally nudges to the forefront of my imagination would I throw myself into? Or which team that are already engaged in mission in my local area would I join to support and encourage?

Could we be so bold as to encourage our presbytery and synod mission resourcing staff to be practitioners as well as coaches, mentors, educators and consultants?

Big goals, big commitments. These are the factors that I found myself wondering about after a day with Leicester Diocese.

In the next postcard, I’ll reflect on a conversation with the leader of an Anglican Church Missionary Society project called Partnership for Missional Church. See you back here in a days or two!

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4 thoughts on “Postcards from England: Fresh Expressions in Leicester Diocese

  1. Hi Scott

    Has anyone spoken about what they’re not doing, so that they might invest time, energy and money into the fresh expressions?

    What criteria do they use to measure the success of these fresh expressions?

    • There is a fairly sustained and intentional commitment to researching the effectiveness of fresh expressions, and often a quite rigorous definition of what actually constitutes one. From my understanding each diocese does seem to take a slightly different approach to monitoring, and to resourcing fresh expressions, depending on local context.

      I’m not sure I’ve heard any sense that they feel like they’re “giving up” anything else, rather that this is the preferred approach to establishing new faith communities and engaging people for whom “normal” church just isn’t a viable option.

  2. Thanks Scott. The thing that struck me in your notes there was expecting each local church to begin a fresh expression – with significant support from the regional body. Is that local knoweldge and connection the sharp end, with the need for grunt from organisational church? In our situation that would truly be Synod and Presbytery serving Congregation, trusting them to take the lead and be the local expression of Christ’s life. (Sort of fits with David McCaughey from forty years back.)

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