The Church Urban Fund have just published a report on fresh expressions and emerging forms of church in deprived communities.
The research explored in depth with 6 groups working in such areas and draws out six findings. I really recommend reading it or at least reading the summary. Here are the six findings/themes that emerged.
1. Faith in white working class culture.
To what extent are the groups supposed to accept the culture within which they work and show the gospel through it? Is there a role for challenging the culture or is that to impose values taken from a more prosperous lifestyle?
2. Indigenous versus incoming Christians.
How permeable are the boundaries of these communities? Can they accept incoming leaders or is it essential to develop local leadership?
3. Mission as presence and empowerment.
Long-term presence in these communities was essential to establish credibility but all these groups moved beyond presence to engage people in conversations about the meaning and value of their lives.
4. Relationships with parish and diocese.
The initiatives had varied relationships with local parishes, depending on the style and attitude of the local vicar and the expectations of local congregations.
5. Supporting appropriate models of leadership.
Leadership was often team based, with a much more blurred sense between lay and ordained. How can the traditional church leader model be integrated into a much more informal and complex scenario without damaging the local leadership team?
6. The reality of reflective practice.
All groups valued the catalyst of an outside facilitator. However many struggled to spend time on action/reflection due to work and time pressures. In stretched and stressful areas, how are people able to free up time to recharge, reflect and learn from their work?
There are recommendations and an extensive literature review. It’ a really good piece of research. Kim Hartshorne (who is joining us to train from Sept – hooray!) has blogged about it here and gets defensive about how reflective people are on the ground (go Kim!).
In our current students we have several who are working in these sorts of areas and I hope that we have at least begun to embody the recommendations for training institutions. We’re certainly talking about these issues. I saw an advance copy of the report and as a result sent Andy Turner a copy of Steve Bevans chapter in Prophetic Dialogue on the spirituality of inculturation which I believe has incredible wisdom on point 2 above – I was blown away by it’s outlining of the different postures of outsiders and insiders in cultures and the different kind of spirituality called for. I also think there is a lot more thinking going on about leadership in the new environment than is recognised in the report but it’s probably in conversations and online and not appeared in weighty books.