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Moving Fresh Expression ideas into the community

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

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Michael Beck, top, listens to the team from Evergreen UMC in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Screenshot from Zoom recording.

"This scripture invites us to Fresh Expressions—new methods, new ways of bringing people to Jesus," Paul Pluddeman, a lay leader at First United Methodist in Fargo, North Dakota, told attendees at Activate Day. "Sometimes we get too worried about making the new wine and wineskin perfect. We need to put the wine in the skin and then let God make it good."  

Participants from 15 congregations gathered around Zoom screens for Activate Day,  to explore turning ideas that they were dreaming about into action steps to reach the next person for Jesus. The 48 people in attendance explored in teams how to activate a Fresh Expression.

Across the United States, God is up to something amid a Christian landscape that looks and feels like a desert of decline. Inherited congregations with long histories deeply rooted in their traditions are experimenting with cultivating "fresh expressions" of church. A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for those not yet part of any church.

The day began grounded in scripture. Pluddeman shared the parable in Luke 5: 36-39, the story of the new wine skins.

"This scripture does not call us to abandon the old wine skin or the old ways," said Rev. Dr. Michael Beck, an elder in the Florida Conference and Director of Fresh Expressions UM. "We're not trying to say the traditional church is done and over. We need to stop doing that. We can't continue only to do the old wine and church one way because people are not coming."

Fresh Expressions is a journey or movement. Rev. Faith Totushek, Grace UMC in St. Cloud, Minnesota, shared four tools and resources needed on the journey: a compass, a map, food, and community. 

"For the journey, it's about knowing the destination. It would help if you had a compass to know your direction. It would be best if you had a map. You need food so you don't get hungry. But the final thing is a community that starts with one-to-one, inward-focused relationships and emerges into a relationship with God and others; an upward relationship where people feel part of something bigger than themselves. They begin to feel part of the universal church," Pastor Faith told participants. "

The methods are critical to the Fresh Expression journey including listening for the need and sharing passion—for ourselves, our neighbors, and God. 

"The method is just being out in the community, listening and loving on people. Listening is the beginning of the missional journey, prayer walks within the community, observing where people are gathering, becoming a regular in the places where conversations are happening," Rev. Eric Pone, Hillcrest UMC in Bloomington, Minnesota, told attendees at Activate Day. "Acknowledge a need, love without assumptions, and build a community. Keep it simple and go to where it makes sense."

Participants were encouraged to think outside of the standard inherited ministry paradigm. On sticky notes placed on boards in each location, participants responded to this question: What are some dreams you have for your community?  

Teams were asked to review the ideas, cut the list in half, and then select the idea with the most energy. 

"Sometimes in the process of just being out in the community and loving on people. These opportunities open up," Beck shared. "It starts with the relationship. There's no agenda in the relationship. But if the spirit whispers and says, there's something more here, go with it. Much of our church programming and how we think are like strategic goals. You really have to have the capacity for adaptation as things emerge. That's more the skill set. It's more being able to be present at the moment, really attuned to what God's doing, and try to follow that as you go along, rather than having some preconceived goal."

Pastor Travis Voeltz of First United Methodist Church in Jamestown, North Dakota, shared practical tips for starting your Fresh Expression. 

"I rely heavily on the Holy Spirit, meaning I'm just going to go and do the things. I'm just going to try them, and if they're meant to be, they're meant to be," Voeltz said.  "Just get started. Some of the things are not going to work out, and less is often more."

Teams then spent time mapping out the tools and methods needed to make the ideas that they had been imagining or dreaming about as a Fresh Expression a reality. Participants shared ideas and asked each other questions. 

"Share your own experience of Jesus. We have had this encounter with Jesus. That is the plain truth for plain people: practical divinity. Be like John Wesley, a preacher in the field," said Beck. 

Resources:
Read stories of Fresh Expressions across the Dakotas-Minnesota Area.
Visit the Fresh Expressions channel on Amplify media

UMC

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