Freshly Expressed: a book review

First there was missional. Then there was the emergent resurgent insurgence, organic church, liquid church, free range church, new monasticism, the new parish and the New Kids. We are always on the hunt for the latest way to be church in ways that engage neighborhoods and culture. Michael Moynagh conducts research at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford for Fresh Expressions UK. He is an advocate of the ‘fresh expressions’ of church (UK speak for missional?).  He examines ‘witnessing communities’ in the UK  and around the globe. With over 120 examples of Fresh Expression Witnessing Communities,his book, Being Church and Doing Life,  explores the creative ways that Christians have sought to connect the gospel to everyday life.

Moynagh’s book is divided into three parts. Part one explores the reasons why have ‘communities in life’ (i.e. churches that meet in pubs, laundry mats, etc.). Part two explores the ‘tools’ necessary for developing witness communties (practices, disciplines, and approaches). Part three explores the tools (organization, leadership, networks and structures) for the wider church. Each section (and chapter) are full of stories of on the ground practitioners who are reaching out in creative ways.  Alan Hirsch ( Author of The Forgotten Ways, The Shaping of Things to Come). This is very much a book written with the missional impulse and a desire to participate in God’s Kingdom coming.

The stories of what other churches (witnessing communities) are doing is the best part of this book. It is always exciting to find out what churches are doing. This is an ‘idea book’ for brainstorming what church could look like in my context. Of course these ‘witnessing communities’ are highly contextualized so are not necessarily reproducible. Still I appreciate some clues to what’s possible.  I also really appreciated the emphasis on relationship. I was reminded of Rodney Stark’s thesis in The Rise of  Christianity, that the early Church grew exponentially by enfolding seekers into their social networks. This is the principle I see at play in witnessing communities. The intentional relationality of this approach means that these ‘witnessing communities’ are fostering meaningful connections with their neighbors.

I do wonder if smaller, contextual communities are too self selecting. A lot of the examples seem to focus around ‘lifestyle’ groups. I wonder if this is too homogeneous. I also wish that this book had a more explicit theological grounding. What this book advocates for is creative relational building with neighbors and friends, but Moynagh spends far less time rooting this biblically.  A few times I wondered what the content of the gospel proclamation was in a few of the witnessing communities he cited.

Yet there is real value in a book of this kind. I recommend this book for people dreaming of new ways of being church and churches interested in a more robust form of life sharing. Moynagh has profiled some interesting stuff. Four stars.

Thank you to Kregel Publications and Monarch Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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