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How to grow the mixed economy

23 November 2012

Simple steps could help Fresh Expressions to have a greater impact, argues Michael Moynagh


Mixing it: St Paul's Café Church, Dorking, in Guildford diocese

Mixing it: St Paul's Café Church, Dorking, in Guildford diocese

IN THEIR book on innovation and entrepreneurship in mission, The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic imagination and practice for the 21st century Church (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2012), the American missionary thinkers Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim comment that the Fresh Expressions movement in Britain has had only a marginal impact on the denominations. Fresh Expressions have yet to be thoroughly owned by the Churches where they operate.

This has sparked an energetic online debate (www.freshexpressions. org.uk/views/revolution): should the denominations be doing more to support Fresh Expressions of Church - and if so, what?

Hirsch and Catchim may well be too pessimistic about the current situation. Some of the denominations have made substantial strides in embracing Fresh Expressions. The Methodist Church, for example, is writing it into many of its policies, practices, standing orders, and job descriptions. We know that some dioceses in the Church of England are doing this, too.

Even so, it is clear that we have a long way to go before Fresh Expressions are deeply embedded in the existing Church. The situation is more serious than many realise. Unless the denominations act more urgently, the window of opportunity could soon close.

EVEN NOW, a significant problem is that senior managers in the Churches do not have the time to push forward the mixed-economy agenda - fresh and inherited expressions of Church existing alongside each other in mutual support.

They are swamped by urgent questions of maintenance, which range from policies on matters such as employment, to new appointments, to initiating and managing re-organisation (read downsizing), to fire-fighting crises.

The problem is about to get a great deal worse. On current trends, between 2015 and 2030, huge numbers will drop out of Church, as the baby-boom generation passes away. The need to manage contraction and to re-organise will increase exponentially. Senior managers will have even less time for encouraging Fresh Expressions.

Fortunately, as money and time become increasingly constrained, all is not lost. Here are some relatively easy "wins" to advance the mixed economy.

1. As posts become vacant, the words "encouraging Fresh Expressions" could be included in the specification for the new holder. If this was done steadily and consistently for denominational and local-church appointments, a revolution would eventually occur in the direction of a denomination's ministry.

2. The newly appointed people would need support and advice about how to encourage Fresh Expressions. Each denomination or diocese should, therefore, appoint one person - in a new senior post - with the task of forming "learning communities" among clergy and lay people who are encouraging new types of Church.

Participants would meet three or four times a year to learn from each other's experiences, set goals, and hold each other to account for seeking to achieve these goals. Church-planters in Europe have found these communities to be very fruitful.

The Fresh Expressions advisers, who convene such groups, should themselves be networked nationally (as is beginning to happen), so that they can learn good practice from one another.

3. The advisers will need increasing financial support, as the number of mixed-economy appointments grows. In the Church of England at least, this support could be funded from the rents of some of the clergy houses that are no longer needed because of the falling number of stipendiary clerics. Decline would fund growth.

THESE proposals could transform the denominations in the medium to long term. Where this has not already happened, they would require the switch of only one post in a diocese from maintaining inherited Church to Fresh Expressions. This does not seem too big a price to pay.

Fresh Expressions are not the only aspect of the Church's mission, but they are playing an increasingly vital part. Statistical evidence, gathered by Church Army's Sheffield Centre, from the dioceses of Canterbury, Leicester, and Liverpool suggest that Fresh Expressions now represent nearly one fifth of the churches in those areas. A growing number have been around for more than five years.

Dioceses that intentionally support Fresh Expressions do see fruit. They reconnect with and serve parts of society that are outside the Church's orbit. So why not take some relatively simple but bold steps, and clear a path for Fresh Expressions?

Michael Moynagh is the author of Church for Every Context (SCM, 2012), and the director of theological research for the national Fresh Expressions team.

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