“Church is not the mission field but the mission force.” This is according to Fresh Africa, an organisation that is encouraging churches to embrace a new way of “doing church”, which entails going out and serving communities in order to win souls to Christ, as opposed to inviting people to a church building.
The organisation is a spin-off of Fresh Expressions, an organisation that was started in 1994 by the Church of England, which conducted research on church planting when it decided to make planting churches its main aim and strategy.
The research results were captured in what has been titled, The Mission Shaped Church Report, that pointed to a need to explore alternative ways of bringing people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, which does not initially involve inviting them to church.
According to Fresh Africa’s Reverend Phillip Botha, the term “fresh expressions” was coined by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and later became a movement that held that no two communities are the same in terms of, inter alia, their history and people and, therefore, required a unique approach to starting new faith communities that do not resemble the traditional or mother church.
“This resulted in the development of a “mixed economy of church” concept that is applicable to any denomination or church culture and encourages churches to continue what they are doing but also start doing church in different ways, for example, in coffee shops, hospitals, schools, etc. At the time the research was conducted, there was a huge decline in churches in the UK with buildings being sold, and the results showed that the Church had to start thinking out the box,” says Botha.
The research report also led to what he refers to as “pioneer ministers” or spiritual entrepreneurs. “A small Methodist church in the UK that reached out to a community as a result of the research turned their church into a playhouse for families and children and over a three-year period hosted 42 000 people in the church,” he explains.
The key value of Fresh Africa – and Fresh Expressions – is that before you minister, you must listen. “It’s taking us back to live like the first Christians with a missional heart. There is a conviction that Church is meant to have a heart for the world,” says Rev Botha.
“There are some practical challenges because the devil doesn’t want us to have a heart for the lost. In the past we did evangelism by inviting people back to church and sent out teams, for example, street preachers and mission teams but the aim was always to bring them to the church.
“We are saying that the church has to go to where people are as more and more people don’t want to be part of a church. We must go to people, listen to their stories and listen to God, and then serve by addressing the needs of the community, instead of Bible-bashing,” he says.
The success of the approach has been proven in the Dornbach informal settlement near Dunoon township in the Western Cape where Botha says he and other members of his team worked for many years under difficult circumstances to serve the needs of the community and, in so doing, built relationships.
“We spent time in taxis and meetings to help the community secure the basic services that it required. One of the companies that offered us support was Max Steel, which I approached one day for assistance to build a community centre. After many years of serving, the leader of the community came to me and asked me to share the Word of God and thank God for helping their community but this only happened down the line.
Churches get caught up in worship services and never touch the lives of the surrounding community, serving the community… too many churches are too comfortable only doing church on a Sunday,” Botha says.
The Dornbach Community Church started with 12 people and rented property in a business complex to do ministry from there. Despite not having a lot of money, Botha says God provided in a miraculous way.
“You don’t need a lot of money to reach out; there are people in the world who are willing to partner with you if they can see that you want to make a difference. If you are obedient, God will provide for the vision that He gave you. Never make money an excuse – use God’s economy; we must just be the channel that God wants to use. We must listen to God and be attentive to where He wants us to go. A missional church doesn’t do a lot of stuff on their own but listens to God and hears what He wants us to do to partner with Him and not Him partner with us,” he explains.
A big challenge for Fresh Africa is to help churches embrace new ways of doing church in response to ongoing declining church numbers around the world. Botha says, “Most churches want to be served but church is not the mission field, it’s the mission force. It is the place where we are equipped to go out and carry out the Great Commission.
“One US theologian has described the church as ‘maintenance driven’ and ‘inward looking’ but every church must have a heart for the community. The challenge is to lead church leaders to have God’s heart like the good Samaritan who saw and noticed the need and had enough compassion to act and do something to the point where he even took out money… This is not what we are taught with the prosperity gospel that we hear these days, which is a distortion of the true Gospel,” he says.
Training material has been developed to assist ministry leaders in developing mission-shaped churches and Fresh Africa has representatives in all South African provinces who can address fraternals.
“Churches can send an email to our national administrator and invite our representatives to events or they can order the Mission Shaped Introductory (MSI) course, which is provided on a flash drive. It consists of six modules with PowerPoint presentations and video clips that can be used by local pastors and local churches to equip them for this missional journey. Other courses are also available but MSI is the foundational course. The email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org,” says Botha.