Sunday, August 15, 2010

a sociological reflection on the growth of fresh expressions

Interesting article by David Allis, exploring growth (numeric) in new forms of church/fresh expressions.  David is a Kiwi, who withdrew from the more Pentecostal end of church life to focus on a home church in his local neighbourhood. The article is a few years old (2007), but makes some good points. David suggests that when we look at new forms of church we need to realise that:

  • The drain created by existing models. “The existing church models are the norm, and people (both churched & unchurched alike) think this is the only way to do church.” This means that alternative models require people to have thought through new forms, or with new converts. Further, “It is difficult for a new small tree to grow under the shade of a large tree, as the large tree drains the nourishment from the ground and; also shades the light.” Yeah, all you light shaders! 🙂
  • Exhaustion. Potential leaders are most likely to come from people who leave the organised church structure. They are often more ready to want to ‘take a break’ from church activities, rather than throw themselves quickly into something new. (I can certainly relate to this one. I’ve struggled to stay afloat in the last 6 months, let alone have energy for something else.)

(The full article is here). I think the points are well made, and as always, value any comments.

Posted by steve at 08:40 PM


  1. the image of the larger tree taking the nourishment and light from the smaller tree is ok to an extent, but i think we need a different picture, and my tired mind can’t come up with one at the moment, that expresses the mutuality i see is needed between established and emerging forms of church, for the sake of life within both types of community – the established church carries the story / tradition to mark signposts for the emerging church, which reimagines living the tradition by forging ahead into new territory and keeping the people of God all moving forward into the future of God …

    Comment by sarah — August 15, 2010 @ 11:05 pm

  2. I recall reading an article in the New Scientist quite a few years ago, which described two equally successful survival strategies that plants have adopted. (1) They can go for an early foothold and grow quickly and so spread rapidly, but then they don’t last long; or (2) they are hard to get started and grow slowly, but once established they are there for a very long time. You can think, at one end of the continuum, of the way thistles spring up on bare ground; at the other, perhaps, the kauri. We tend to think of the kauri as somehow being more worthy than the thistle but they both have a place in the scheme of things. And gorse, I’ve been told, makes a great nursery for trees – if it doesn’t choke them before they get their heads up. On the other hand, nothing much grows under pine plantations.
    I like coconuts in this regard, especially the coco de mer, because they seem to have combined the two strategies in an interesting way. Coconuts grow by the sea; they let the sea carry their seed (the nuts) as long and as far as it wants. When the seed comes ashore it doesn’t matter what it finds, it contains everything it needs to survive and grow. It can hit a coral atoll with nothing but raw sand to grow on and in time turn it into a tropical island. It’s the pioneer. The first settler.
    Might be a role model for us somewhere in there.

    Comment by Ross McComish — August 16, 2010 @ 4:31 am

  3. Thanks. I love the distinctly ecological shape this conversation has taken.

    In the past, when reflecting on ecology and emerging life, I have used the image of rata, which is a New Zealand native –

    “The native New Zealand rata begins life as a seedling perched high in the branches of other forest trees. Roots descend from the young rata down the trunk of the host to reach the ground. Over time these roots become thick and woody, uniting to form a massive trunk. The imagery of the rata is instructive. Around New Zealand, young leaders are initiating new expressions of church, worship and gospel communication.1 The creative Spirit of God is active. New life, native to Aotearoa New Zealand, is emerging … In time this new rata, perched amid the canopy of the old, will put down roots. These roots will become thick and woody, uniting to form a new tree – the Christian enterprise – in Aotearoa New Zealand. What shape this new rata? What form the future? What does this emerging generation dream of? What possibilities for life, church and mission would they like to see or create as we enter the twenty-first century?

    For the full article go here – (I did write it some 10 years ago in the midst of millenial hype!)


    Comment by steve — August 16, 2010 @ 10:07 am

  4. Nice one, Steve. My first reaction, given that the rātā strangles its host and feeds on its rotted corpse, was that this might not be quite the image you wanted to convey. But on checking my facts I see that the current thinking is that the rātā only extablishes itself on trees that are already in decline – and this adds an interesting new dimension to the imagery. It doesn’t apply to our southern rātā, though. Apparently they usually grow like regular trees, which I guess teaches us that circumstances can alter cases. Ain’t nature grand?
    There might be another lesson for us here; like the banana, the (northern) rātā manages to behave like a tree without having a trunk. (The fused roots are a pseudo-trunk, not the real thing in botanical terms.) God also seems to have a surprising ability to make some of us pseudo-whatevers serve his purpose when he can’t get the real thing.
    Now, about the rātā’s hollow core…

    Comment by Ross McComish — August 16, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

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