Discussion: Rural Fresh Expressions in the UK and Canada

Posted by on Aug 10, 2010

Each month the Share website in England sends out  Share Thoughts, a free monthly email with a thought-provoking article, containing material of great interest to the church. In the August edition the article below appeared, which we reproduce in full with the kind permission of Fresh Expressions and Share.

We thought it would be of great interest to many Canadians and could even start an online discussion of the issues it raises. At the end of the article we have asked a question to which we would like you to respond!

Share thoughts – August 2010

exploring fresh expressions of church together

Rural fresh expressions

On a rural housing estate in North Oxfordshire, Church Army pioneer Ian Biscoe got to know his neighbours, put on a Christmas talent show at which Alpha was advertised, ran the course, turned it into a Thursday evening discipleship group, and enabled the group to be church. Five years later there were four congregations with 100 to 120 people overall.
David Muir, a pioneer minister in Devon, has offered these ten tips for people wanting to develop fresh expressions of church in rural areas.

1. Do some serious homework on the social realities in your area

The countryside is hugely varied, so beware of generalisations about what ‘country people’ are like.

2. Do assume that countryside people are well disposed to the Christian faith

Most are. So think hard before using language like ‘becoming a Christian’.

3. If you are new to the countryside, get involved

Traditional countryside people will always see you as an in-comer, but it will only take a couple of years to be accepted as an ‘OK in-comer’.

4. Beware of the idolatry of nice village life

This is a temptation for the traditional inhabitants of the countryside and for in-comers seeking their rural idyll.

5. A community centred on its own well-being is a form of selfishness

The church must challenge this rather than collude with it to gain acceptance.

6. Support the church building

It is a social symbol that continues to have some Christian opportunities. Attending funerals will open some doors.

7. Accept that we have lost the battle for weekly public worship

‘Public’ worship was a Christendom idea and we need to let go of it. Think about how else to give expression to a living faith community.

8. Support the vicar

People still want clergy for baptisms, weddings and (most of all) funerals. So support ministers in their traditional roles, and find ways to link their ministries to whatever fresh expression of church you feel called to develop.

9. Refuse to be trapped by geography

Countryside people travel, often quite long distances, to things they really want to go to. So think wide. Doing something ‘just for our little community’ is killing the countryside socially.

10. Think ‘sustainability’ rather than ‘funding’

Evangelism by largesse is another Christendom idea that needs to die. It fosters dependency rather than initiative. Grants run out. So keep it simple. Start what the group can sustain.
Do you agree with David? What else might you add? Have you an experience of rural fresh expressions that you can share? You might like to comment on the Share page, Share Rural fresh expressions.
For more thought-provoking articles on different aspects of fresh expressions of church, visit the Share Share website. To discuss with others, join the Share Community.

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Question: “In what ways do Canadian rural situations differ from, or match, the English rural scene?”

Please key your response in the comments box below. I hope we can get a good discussion started!


  1. Ryan Sim
    August 10, 2010

    The rural context for fresh expressions described here is not that far off from my experience, and names some important realities. I do find a tension between No. 6 and Nos. 9 and 10, in some Canadian rural areas.

    Nos. 6 and 9 are sometimes at odds, when the abundance of church buildings in a very small area means that the question is not about supporting “the” church building, but many buildings.

    Nos. 6 and 10 are in tension when maintaining so many village church buildings is not sustainable, and actually out of step with actual rural life in a day when people live regionally, travelling all over the countryside for services, products and social life.

  2. The Rev. Dr Tom Wilson
    September 8, 2010

    As someone who ministered in rural southern-Ontario for 7 years, and lived as a layperson for 15 years before that, after growing up in an urban centre, I agree the situation is similar, but also different. Where I lived near a small village of 400 people, there were 2 churches, neither very full. Where I ministered in two villages of 1000 people, each community had 6 church buildings, but none were averaging more than 50 people on any given Sunday. The largest church was built in the 1920’s to house 650 people. To me, the reality of rural Ontario is finding ways to get over denominational differences, and being wedded to our buildings. Huge amounts of energy are being expended on keeping aging, architecturally uninspiring buildings open, rather than finding ways to share facilities and ministries. I have found that community loyalty is strong in Ontario villages, much stronger than denominational loyalty. Parishioners told me that”if my church closes, I won’t attend one in the neighbouring village 20k away, but rather go to another denomination in town. I think that is the big difference between Canada and England. We often have multiple denominations in our villages and rural areas, rather than just many churches of one denomination scattered across the countryside.


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