The Kirk is moving full steam ahead with Fresh Expressions

Phil Potter
Archbishops Missioner and Fresh Expressions team lead shared his thoughts on the evolution of the initiative and how he thinks the Church of Scotland is moving it forward.

The Church of Scotland's Fresh Expressions work is gaining steam in its second year, with a stream of events designed to equip church members to build Christian community wherever they are.

Next up is a Vision Day in Linlithgow on Saturday 23 April, where you can learn about Fresh Expressions and hear from Angus Mathieson of the Ministries Council and David McCarthy of the Mission and Discipleship Council, who are taking the lead on Fresh Expressions for the Kirk.

The Linlithgow event is the second of three Vision Days planned this year, with another planned this autumn in Shetland. That's in addition to the Going for Growth Summer School, which will be held in Dundee on 6-9 June.

Norman Smith, vice convener of the Mission and Discipleship Council, said the events are designed to support anyone interested in sharing faith with people who don't attend Church.

"We're excited about Fresh Expressions and we think you will be too," Norman said. "These are great opportunities to grow your church and to discover new ways of reaching out to your community."

Meet Phil Potter: Archbishops Missioner and Fresh Expressions Team leader

Now 12 years old, Fresh Expressions is growing up. The fledgling initiative has become a movement that is energising Christians across the country— and reaching thousands of people who may never have stepped inside a church.

Phil Potter, Archbishops' Missioner and Fresh Expressions team leader, visited the Church of Scotland's George Street offices to talk about the evolution of the movement and how ordinary church members can become modern missionaries simply by being who they are and doing what they love.

"Fresh Expressions is very much about using the natural shape God has given you and sharing your faith with other people in a welcoming, unthreatening way," Phil says.

"It's very much about reimagining Church in a different context and creating relationships and networks that naturally reproduce themselves."

A church with 10,000 unchurched people 'on our doorstep'.

As vicar of St Mark's, in Haydock, Merseyside, for 20 years, Phil loved his traditional church, but he also knew it wasn't serving everyone who needed God in their lives.

"I realised we had 10,000 people on our doorstep who were not coming into the church. In fact, there is a statistic that says 50 percent of the population are completely unchurched – not just the children or even their parents, it was the grandparents who were completely unchurched."

With his wife, a primary school teacher, Phil began experimenting with taking church to families in their natural environments, starting with a family circle at the school. Other examples of this pioneering work include a craft group that agreed to explore spirituality together and a group of senior police officers who meet for worship once a week.

There is no formula or blueprint to follow, because a Fresh Expression depends on the unique interests and needs of everyone taking part.

In England and Wales, some churches have been pioneering Fresh Expressions for more than a decade, he said, and the results, research has shown, speak for themselves.

"Since the initiative began, in the Church of England alone, 30,000 church members have gone out and planted more than 2,000 Fresh Expressions of church," Phil says. "They involved 80,000 people most of whom had never been to Church."

What's next for Fresh Expressions in England?

With advocates at the highest levels of the Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Bishop of Sheffield, Steve Croft, and more than 20 other bishops, the challenge facing Fresh Expressions in England is to continue innovating and growing.

The challenge for the Church is to release the movement to move forward under its own – grassroots –momentum, Phil says.

"Church culture is actually changing and there is no going back. This is a bottom up movement and it as it embeds itself in the church, it is raising the question: How do Church structures have to change so it can multiply and grow?"

At the same time, he says, successful Fresh Expressions don't replace traditional Church structures; the research shows they may even help them grow.

"Where there had been years of decline, it has tipped Churches into new growth," he says. "These are exciting times. There is a real feeling of change."

The idea has caught hold in other countries, from Germany, Sweden and Norway, to South Africa, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Now rather than continuing to give guidance to these emerging pioneers, the Fresh Expressions team wants to form a learning community where partners can all learn from one another.

The Church of Scotland is taking Fresh Expressions to heart

It has only been two years since The Church of Scotland decided to partner with Fresh Expressions, yet already it has achieved a lot, Phil says.

"Some of the denominations are looking for the care team to guide the work for them. But here you are really going out and doing it for yourselves.

"In comparison, you are still at the beginning of your journey, but I am very encouraged at what is happening in the Church of Scotland. You are moving very, very quickly."

Want to join the Fresh Expressions movement? Book your place now at the Linlithgow Vision Day event to be held Saturday 23 April.

Limited places left for the Going for Growth Summer School in Dundee 6-9 June so register now to reserve your spot.

Find out more about Fresh Expressions.