There is this springtime phenomenon in the Dakotas and Minnesota. People come out of their winter hibernation and neighbors see one another again. I had a young couple living next door to me, and more than once, come spring, I discovered that they had a new baby during the winter. I had no idea all those months we saw each other driving into attached garages or shoveling from a distance. It wasn’t until we were in our backyards, that we caught up on those life changes.
Church has felt like that these past few years. During COVID we went on-line and even as we came back behind our masks, it was slow to build community. But finally, it feels like springtime, and we are seeing each other in fresh ways, and recognizing new people in our midst. At the church I was preaching at for Easter, they had advertised an Easter Egg Hunt and petting zoo for the community. Hundreds showed up on a Saturday afternoon! Classic springtime in Minnesota and the folks in the church saw their community anew.
The pandemic has changed us. For many churches, there is a wondering about where are the young families, the children and youth? We notice the change. People are making different choices about time and investment. And yet, on a Saturday afternoon, hundreds will come out for an Easter Egg Hunt. So how do we meet people where they are at, and begin to build relationships in new ways?
That is the heart of the Fresh Expressions movement. It started in England in 2004 and moved to the United States in 2010. It is a simple movement of helping churches see the people in their relationship circles and communities, connect around mutual interests, and be church together. It may happen at a dinner table or a hiking club or a photography group. It blends the best of an existing church, with fresh ways of going out of our doors, to meet people in a relaxed and friendly environment, and share Jesus in everyday, ordinary ways.
At our annual conference session, we have invited Michael Beck, who is a United Methodist pastor and Director of Remissioning for Fresh Expressions US to be our featured speaker. There will be opportunities for you to dive into what is a Fresh Expression, how can that work in my church and community and what do we do next?
First, Michael will be our featured speaker during the annual conference session and share the practices and principles of the Fresh Expressions movement and how is it primarily lay led and requires a missionary mindset by the clergy. Michael Beck where he will share the five personality types of congregations and how to “grow the center, and experiment on the edge” based on each type of church.
There is also a lunch-n-learn session and a workshop on Friday. where Michael will share how we can live out our discipleship in our everyday, ordinary life and build connections to the people around us. He will help us see how we move from “going to church” on Sunday to “being the church” in all that we do, and Fresh Expressions is finding those simple, practical ways to be church. Attendees (one per church) at these sessions will receive a copy of the book A Field Guide to Methodist Fresh Expressions by Michael Beck and Jorge Acevedo.
As an annual conference, we are investing in resourcing and equipping our congregations in developing fresh expressions of worshipping communities and creating what Michael calls blended ecologies of churches: honoring the roots and tree that has been the foundation of the church, while planting new expressions of communities that together create a diverse vineyard of Christian community. This is the beginning of a longer journey and movement.
We invite you to join us at annual conference session this year, whether in-person, or through the livestream. Our theme is Encounter. Transform. Respond: The Emmaus Experience. We chose a post-resurrection story as our focus because it seems like God is doing a new thing. Like those two disciples, we are on the road, not sure what it all means or completely understanding what God might be up to, but we just know things are changing. And Jesus meets us on that road, joins us at table, and in the conversation, and in the breaking of the bread, something happens. We are transformed. That is what the church has always been about. Gathering at table, breaking bread, sharing our stories, telling others what we have seen and heard and encountering the risen Christ through it all.
It is springtime! Time to open our doors, go out into the streets and parks and backyards, and see what is new and who has moved in and what is going on in the neighborhood. Let’s form some new tables of gathering that feel warm and welcoming to those who are also traveling the road trying to make sense of life and all that happened in the past few years.
Need a little more inspiration? Here is another peek at the power of table gathering in a fresh expression way. This is Dinner Church | A Fresh Expressions Story - YouTube
Today is your last chance to register for the annual conference. Get the details here.