~Rev. Dwayne Bagley, District Superintendent
How often has someone encouraged the leadership of your church to “think outside the box” when the topic of reaching new people surfaces during a planning session, visioning retreat, or committee meeting? I’d guess that such encouragement comes frequently, but results in efforts that are not far removed from the boxes we have been invited to think beyond. My own firsthand engagement with thinking outside the box has caused several well-intentioned effects. Better contents for the box, better looking boxes, detailed instructions about how to locate the box, seasonal invitations to gather inside the box, more accessible boxes and boxes designed for each generation have all resulted. None of these efforts moved the metrics of worship attendance and membership much. Frankly, I’m not convinced that plans and programs focused in and around our present boxes can reach new people. Those most likely to be attracted to even the best of boxes have already found a box of their own. If this is true, what can we do? Maybe there’s a way to think beyond our boxes.
A catalyst for this is allowing room within preconceived ideas about the way the church should be to consider the possibility that the future of the Christian Church in general and your church in particular will not be located in existing buildings and scheduled only at an appointed hour on Sunday morning. Openness to this possibility makes space for the Holy Spirit to move so that we are inspired to imagine new possibilities. Such imagination not only moves us outside the box but takes us beyond the box and may lead to a place where there is no box at all. To arrive at this point, we may be called to shed our expectation that every outreach is a means to the desired end of increasing worship attenders and giving units.
The good news is that it’s possible to sustain what people already connected to our church find meaningful, even as congregations reach out to new people in new places in new ways. Examples of how this is happening around the world is found in the Fresh Expressions movement. This global movement began in 2004 as Anglican and Methodist churches in Great Britain began to seek ways to mesh existing church culture with new ways of reaching those who didn’t go to church. This intentional seeking gave rise to over 3000 new faith communities located in places as diverse as playground swings and kayak seats, bar stools and beach blankets.
That movement has taken root in the United States and we’re inviting your congregation to consider how your church can offer a new kind of United Methodist Church for people not in church. We’ve scheduled a Fresh Expression Vision Day in the Greater Southwest District for Saturday, November 12, 2022. This opportunity to explore how a fresh expression can change the future of your church begins at 9:30 AM. Throughout the day you’ll interact with others to brainstorm innovative ways that everyday people of God can be on mission in their neighborhoods and with their networks of friends and acquaintances. Lunch will be served, and childcare will be available on site. When our day concludes at 3:30 PM you’ll leave with steps that your congregation can take to connect with new people in new places in new ways. Sign up today, encourage a team from your church to attend and envision how your church can begin ministry beyond the box.