Friday, February 26, 2010

"Fresh Expressions" reimagines what it takes "turn around" declining churches

Jim White, Religious Herald writes in the Texas Baptist Standard about "Fresh Initiatives," an approach being used in the Church of England to both revitalize existing congregations or plant new congregations (or both).

White writes:

If turning around a declining church were easy, more declining churches would be reversing course.

And if Christians in the United States think turning around a church is difficult, think of trying it in the Church of England, where tradition reaches back hundreds of years and hierarchical structure often hamstrings changes local congregations want to make.

But Bob and Mary Hopkins believe fresh expressions—a term they prefer over “revitalizing a congregation”—can come even to Anglican churches in the United Kingdom.

Although they began—and continue—as church planters in urban settings with Anglican Church Planting Initiatives, from 1998 to 2005, the Hopkins served on the leadership team of St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield, which grew to 1,500 in attendance, primarily reaching young adults with emerging culture interests.

They acknowledge cultural differences between the United Kingdom and the United States, but they emphasize that differences favor American churches. According to the Hopkins, culture in the United Kingdom is more influenced by secular atheism and is further into an era being called post-Christendom. The Brits have fewer megachurches and a greater percentage of smaller congregations. In addition, their congregations are attended by older people—average age 61—with fewer financial resources.

Because of their success, the pair has been asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to serve on the Fresh Expressions team charged with bringing new vitality and energetic ministry to Anglican churches.

Although not everyone accepts their belief that churches in decline should not feel guilty, Bob and Mary Hopkins teach churches to begin by rejecting the belief that they have failed. Shying away from terms like “traditional churches” that often have negative connotations, they prefer the term “inherited churches” to describe churches that have been around for years.

“It isn’t good or bad,” Bob Hopkins said. “It simply describes what is. This is the church that has come down to us.”

But fresh expressions of church life require more than just a name change. In the past, they insist, the church’s approach has been attractional—inviting people to come to church.

Some churches have transitioned to an engaged approach that says, “We’ll go out and engage people and bring them back to the church.”

The couple believes more transition is needed—an emerging approach that says, “We’ll go out and stay engaged with people in our culture and see what new expressions of being the church arise.”

What characterizes an emerging approach?

“First and above all,” Bob Hopkins said, “we’ve got to stop starting with the church.” Instead, he insists, start with the nonchurched in their social contexts.

The couple believes, based on their relatively recent successes, the inherited church must be willing, able and even eager to initiate changes designed with specific interest groups in mind. They foresee churches for young adults, adults with young children, network churches, community initiative churches, alternative worship churches, school-based student churches and even work-based churches.

These churches may or may not worship on Sundays. They may or may not have paid staff. They may be smaller, worship in cafes, or around tables or in homes as cells. They may even be intentional conventional church plants, but Bob and Mary Hopkins believe the church must take the teaching of Christ to its world rather than expect the world to come to it.

Neither can the church in the future expect the world to reflect its values and teachings. The world is becoming increasingly worldly. In such a context the attractional church has little chance of surviving, they believe.

They do, however, see a future for what they call “mixed economy” churches that affirm what they have inherited from the past while transitioning into churches having a mission to the non-churched.

While at St. Thomas in Sheffield, Bob helped begin a discipleship process called Lifeshapes which has become international in scope. They believe that staid, passive, all-but-dead Anglican churches can find fresh expressions in which to life out their faith.

The new churches may not resemble the old, cathedral-based models, they insist, but those churches will be authentic and biblical. They believe tired old American churches can find fresh expressions, as well.

For additional information visit their website at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday at the rail station.

Updated. The Rev. Lane Hensley of the Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park, Illinois came out in the early morning to the commuter rail station and distributed ashes to commuters on their way to work. Other congregations did the same at other Chicagoland commuter rail stations, and there was ecumenical effort in the business district of St. Louis.

Father Hensley said he wanted to bring the Gospel to where people actually live and work. More images and the rest of the story may be found at Episcopal Cafe here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Brandon's story

This story from Wyoming talks about how one person with a heart for evangelism made a difference in the life of his congregation and his friends. It is also a story about how a congregation can encourage a person with a gift for evangelism to thrive in a helpful and healthy way. It is also the story of a ten-year old named Brandon.

From the e-newsletter of the Diocese of Wyoming, the Rev. Kathy Robinson shares the story of Cheryl Duel's son Brandon. Cherly is the senior warden of the Church of our Savior, Hartville, Wyoming:
Evangelism happens everyday and all around us...we just need to listen for the stories. This is a wonderful story about a ten year old boy and his story that came to me from his mother, Cheryl Duel....

From Cheryl: My ten year old son Brandon attended our annual convention again this year. He went for the first time with me last year to Jackson Hole and had a wonderful time with the other youth who were there. He is an easy going young man, makes friends easily, and is comfortable in almost any situation. So, I was not surprised when he readily agreed to participate in the World Café conversations, at different tables than I was seated. We had just been told about the Mustard Seed gift and all the tables had rather lively conversations about what they could do.

We finished this activity and Brandon came to find me. I asked how his experience was and he replied, “Mom, I am full of the evangelistic spirit. I had some great ideas and I am ready to do them when we get home.” I was pleasantly surprised by his enthusiasm, but wondered if he would follow through on his plans. He knows that not many of his friends are church goers and decided to do something about it. We came home from Rock Springs and he immediately began having conversations with his friends about their belief in God, if they had been baptized, and so forth. He found out quite a bit and we would visit about his talks when I got home from work. He made his plans entirely on his own, and surprised me when he implemented them. He had three friends spend the night for his birthday this last week on Saturday night. They watched movies and played video games, all the things young boys do, as well as stayed up late, so I really didn’t give it too much thought the next morning as I readied myself for church. It was a little after 8 and I was having a cup of coffee before heading out the door, when Brandon , who had just been awake a few minutes, roused all his buddies and said, “Come on guys, we don’t want to be late for church.” They all got up, got ready, and piled in the van to go. I was totally shocked. I really thought they would come up with some excuse not to go, but they all went willingly and cheerfully. They all sat in one pew in front of me, had their bulletins and got all their pages marked to begin. Brandon introduced them all at the beginning of the service and they participated with full hearts throughout the service. Afterward, at our coffee hour, they all told different members of the church that they would be back. I told them if they wanted to come, all they have to do is call and I will be glad to give them a ride.

His friends continue to come to church, one has been there on a weekly basis, the others about every other week, but they are coming and listening. Small steps to great rewards. Brandon was thrilled that his plan worked, and I marvel at his evangelistic spirit. Brandon’s efforts reminded me of our baptismal covenant, “ I will with God’s help”, because I know God was guiding Brandon every step of the way, and for that I am truly thankful.