2000s: The Mixed Economy

In popular thinking, ‘the local church’ means a distinctive building, often with a steeple, with a congregation inside and (if they can still afford it) a paid minister.

However, for at least the last two decades other models have been developed, mostly alongside the main denominations. These ‘new ways of being church’ first came to the notice of the Church of England when Charismatic Evangelical churches in the C of E started ‘planting churches’ in neighbouring parishes, breaking all the accepted conventions of the parochial system.

Fortunately, however, enough people saw the deeper significance of what was happening. New cultures need new patterns for serving God’s mission and new expressions of what it is to be the Body of Christ in any particular setting.

The report ‘Mission Shaped Church’ gathered up the evidence for these new developments, but was always in danger of trying to convert a movement of the Holy Spirit into a resource-intensive management-led enterprise under the supervision of C of E bishops.

In the light of ‘Mission Shaped Church’, a distinction has been popularly drawn between ‘inherited church’ (congregations within the parochial system) and ‘emerging church’ (anything else, but especially ‘Fresh Expressions of Church’) – the phrases came originally from Robert Warren, a former National Evangelism Adviser for the C of E. It is said that at the time the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams can to regret describing all this as ‘a mixed economy’ – perhaps because, by definition, in a mixture the constituent parts have no effect on each other.

What about today?

With the increased oversight by bishops through Bishop’s Mission Orders, as set up under the new Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure (2008), the ‘Fresh Expressions of Church’ that have been greatly promoted as a result of ‘Mission Shaped Church’ now run the risk of turning out to be just ‘new ways of being old church’.

In addition, when too sharp a contrast is made between ‘inherited’ and ‘emerging’, the danger is that people are encouraged to believe that there can be nothing good in the inherited ways – which are therefore doomed to fail – and conversely that whatever is new is above criticism.

When renewal is presented in these terms, parochial clergy who are struggling to keep the existing show on the road can feel seriously unloved.

  • When “a thousand flowers are allowed to bloom”, who goes round dead-heading when the flowers fade?

  • How can church people and their leaders be persuaded that both inherited church and emerging church need each other?

  • In other words:

    • What must be done to ensure that the cultural assumptions that have weakened the inherited church are not transferred unquestioningly to the emerging church?

    • What must be done to ensure that the leading of the Holy Spirit that is informing the emerging church is also experienced in the inherited church?

  • Parish & People believes that a whole variety of ‘expressions of church’, drawing both on what is inherited and what is emerging, are needed if Christ’s disciples are to serve God’s mission faithfully in our generation – and that openness to continual renewal by the Holy Spirit is essential for them all.

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