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Fresh Expressions in the Urban Context

Author: Eleanor Williams
Published By: YTC Press (Cambridge)
Pages: 153
Price: £8.95
ISBN: 978 1 84799 213

Reviewed by Dave Male.

The fresh expressions movement is in its infancy and this book is part of the first phase of attending to some questions that the movement is raising about itself and the church generally. Much of the discussion so far has little basis in any serious research, but Eleanor Williams presents two important pieces of work she has undertaken. The first is a questionnaire with over one hundred Anglican churches in the Ely Diocese who claim to have some type of fresh expression in their parish. Her research teases out exactly how they perceive a fresh expression and who these fledgling churches are aimed at in terms of their mission. Second, she has interviewed over thirty fresh expression leaders, particularly leaders working in an urban context.

In the heart of the book she analyses their responses with a view to answering questions about the relationship between what is developing and the traditional, inherited models of church, and she touches on the key ecclesiological issue of how they see themselves as church, both theologically and in practice. Eleanor also asks important questions about long term sustainability and viability of these new churches.

Finally she explores the issue of whether fresh expressions incarnate good news for the poor and whether they might be capable of transforming unjust structures rather than simply being ecclesiastical products of consumerism. Presently most fresh expression in Britain tend to be dominated by the middle class, both in their prevailing culture and leadership. This book is a good reminder that we do need different models and churches to reach all peoples.

What comes across in Eleanor’s studies is that we are only in the initial stages of a process in which the Church develops what it means to be missional in a post modern and post Christian culture. There are green shoots of hope with many churches becoming mission shaped, but will the future see churches going beyond that in creating new models to take on the mission of the church? I was also struck by the heroic vision, commitment and sheer stick ability of these initial pioneers.

The book ends with a number of appendices including further details of both Eleanor’s research projects.

I think this book is a great resource for those thinking theologically and practically about fresh expressions. By necessity, most of the research is Anglican and English, but I think wider research would find many similar results.

It will be important for the future of the movement to see more detailed research which helps us discover whether fresh expressions are really reaching people outside the church, or if what is being created are fresh expressions of worship for disillusioned Christians. I also think we may learn more from some historical analysis of mission in the urban context to see how this might inform our future planning.

Last, I think we need more theological debate about the dichotomy of attractional and incarnational church. I wonder if this supposed divide, which I often hear repeated in most of the literature, really exists either in the contemporary church or in church history.

This book is available from

Dave Male

Tutor in Pioneer Ministry Training, Ridley Hall and Westcott House, Cambridge.

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You are reading Issue 42 of Ministry Today, published in March 2008.

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