Worship Not the Starting Point, says Bishop

In the current issue of  “expressions”, the e-newsletter of Fresh Expressions in England, Bishop Graham Cray writes,

“One of the most common misunderstandings about fresh expressions is the belief that they are new types of worship service. It is an understandable mistake as worship lies at the heart of the life of the church, and fresh expressions are new congregations or churches, (not rebranded or experimental church services). There is also an honourable stream within, and pre-dating, the Fresh Expressions initiative, called ‘alternative worship’. However, our recommendation is that the shaping of an act of worship normally lies near the end, rather than at the beginning, of the planting process.

There are a number of reasons for this. Ideally fresh expressions are planted following a process of prayerful listening, and making relationships through acts of service. But if the initial point of contact is a worship event it can only be one which it is hoped the relevant people will like, rather than one which they are involved in shaping, or which we can shape for them with greater care, because we know them. There is also a danger of self indulgence, of creating an event which suits us, or which relieves the frustrations we have with the worship in our own church. ‘I like it so they will as well’ is not the way to plant. What Mission-shaped Church called ‘dying to live’ challenges us to sacrifice our preferences for the sake of what is appropriate for others. Finally it is likely that the result will be an event to attend rather than a church community to which to belong. If there is no intention to form a new congregation, it is not a fresh expression ‘of church’.

To begin with worship may be feasible for the de-churched, who retain a memory of what church was like (up to the point they decided to leave!), but it is less likely to be appropriate for the largest part of our adult mission field, those who have never been involved before. For many worship is culturally strange. They don’t have the toolkit for worship. They don’t know the Biblical story. They only community sing at football matches and they don’t understand our vocabulary. With them we have to start much further back.

Of course, if a fresh expression is planted by transitioning an existing piece of work in the community, then the listening, serving, community forming and witnessing have probably already taken place. In which case you are not starting with worship, but introducing it at the right time. A culturally appropriate, recognisably Christian practice of worship, including baptism and holy communion, is the aim for all fresh expressions that hope to endure, but mostly it is a later development, not the starting point.

+Graham Cray”

team leader Fresh Expressions from expressions June 2010

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