No matter the style of worship, or if the worship even fits in any category of style, here are elements that are emerging as helpful in fresh expressions of church. This list grows out of the real world of fresh expressions.
1. Let people tell their stories.
Some of us used to call these “testimonies.” The stories, offered when the church is gathered, are genuine, personal, and often raw accounts of what God is doing.
2. Use simple music.
Simple music means being free to have no soloists, no band, and no choral group. And it is certainly acceptable if you consider not singing as a group.
3. Use teaching themes/topics that are relevant to the context.
If you were going to begin a fresh expression of church among professional fishermen, would you not choose in the beginning to talk about the fish stories in the Bible, and about God’s love for the common person? And if you were going to begin a fresh expression of church among people with an environmental bent, would you not often consider the texts surrounding creation, its beauty, and its care? Like Paul meeting the Athenians “where they were,” tailoring the thematic emphases to the subculture we are working with is good missionary strategy.
4. Don’t assume people know basic Bible stories.
We preachers are tempted to take shortcuts, such as, “You know the story of Daniel . . .” Nope, many don’t know that story or the others. Don’t assume biblical literacy.
5. Share leadership of worship.
Responsibilities for leading worship and doing the biblical teaching are being shared, or rotated, in many fresh expressions of church. Shared leadership is modeled, and the new form of church is not built on the personality of the founder.
6. Consider worshiping in public spaces.
Darrell Guder wrote, “The walls and windows of churches need to become transparent.” Worship in public places, baptize where many can see—both are wonderful means of witness. District Church in Washington, DC recently celebrated its baptisms on the sidewalk in a tank. Find ways to let outsiders look in, to see what you’re doing.
7. Explain to new people what is going on.
Simple instructions to guests would go a long way toward making people feel included. Don’t assume that because you understand the meaning behind a practice, and know what is coming next, a guest will understand (or should). Church is not a secret society, with secret handshakes and symbols known only to the initiated. This is church, and clear instructions are a matter of Christian hospitality.
8. Be creative.
There is no predetermined model for worship in a fresh expression of church. The worship might be as simple as reading Psalms or might involve someone new to the group sharing
their musical gifts.
9. Make it participatory.
Most fresh expressions of church engage a particular subculture. So what would participatory worship in your subculture look like? Let’s say your fresh expression of church originated in the hearts of people who share a common concern for those who are under-resourced. What would it look like, in the new form of church, if the first thing you do when you gather would be to involve everyone in a group activity whereby you invest in people starting microbusinesses, using Kiva11 or some other such tool? Or, let’s say your fresh expression of church is in the arts community. How would you begin to engage them in the gospel?
10. Check in often.
Begin simply, and check in often with the new members of the circle to see if what you are doing is meaningful. It is important that we be careful not to revert to styles that are comfortable for the already-believers; this is about people who are new to faith. So check in with the recent Christ-followers. It is not theirs to dictate the direction of worship, but it is ours to ask if what we are doing is connecting.