Sunday, 27 September 2009

Fresh Expressions

There are many ways in which today’s church is engaged in exciting and innovative things – but perhaps one of the best ways to explore this question is through a brief consideration of what is commonly known as ‘fresh expressions’ and, in particular, the programme (if that’s the right word) that is known by the name and of which the United Reformed Church has recently become a full part. Fundamentally, fresh expressions are looking for and at new ways of being and doing church, Messy Church and CafĂ© Church perhaps being amongst the most obvious examples to cite. But it is also helpful to look behind some of the specific stories at some of the theory and theology that undergirds what is going on. Indeed, this may prove to be the most helpful part of our consideration. We should admit, as they do, that “a phrase like ‘fresh expressions of church’ can be vague and unclear. Sometimes the label is used to cover almost anything – even a new church noticeboard!” However, they (on the website that offers the theory behind the practice – – offer two things that describe a fresh expression or what we might want to call a pioneering opportunity and four characteristics that should define that. So what are they looking for if a particular “thing” is to be seen as a fresh expression? It should “come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples” and should “have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.” They then emphasise four characteristics. Fresh expressions are: - Missional – serving people outside the church; - Incarnational – listening to people and entering their culture; - Educational – making discipleship a priority; - Ecclesial – forming church. It is perhaps interesting to consider whether these fit anything we are doing, whether we might emphasise some rather than others and, indeed, more of what we would mean by them. What 'fresh expressions' might we engage in that really contribute something?

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Big Chef, Little Chef

During the flights that were necessary for this summer’s trip to New Zealand, amongst many other things, I watched the three Channel 4 episodes which describe how top and innovative chef Heston Blumenthal was brought in to Little Chef to try and transform its fortune. The first Little Chef opened in 1958, the same year as Britain got its first motorway. For many it has become a British institution but, 50 years on, in 2008 was failing to attract the level of customers it needed in order to be viable. Chief Executive Ian Pegler brought in Blumenthal giving him the remit of transforming the chain’s fortunes. Despite being horrified by sampling the fare on offer, Blumenthal eagerly took on the challenge seeing it as an opportunity to transform – and so save – a British institution. Pegler encouraged Blumenthal to engage in ‘blue sky thinking’, but was obstructive in many ways, for example, being reluctant to give him the accounts. The programmes followed his creating new dishes, costing and trialling them. He battled to persuade the committed Little Chef staff that other things were possible and could be an improvement. The story contributes to my thinking about how we can 'get the church sorted' in a number of ways and raises questions like: - How ready are we to do something different? - How much are we prepared to pay for quality? - How do we keep the currently committed on board? - What are the new ‘dishes’ we should be offering? - Are we prepared to be open with potential partners? - How do we go different without losing the brand?