This title will need no introduction, given the wide publicity it has received in the short time since its publication. A key report for the Anglican Mission and Public Affairs Council, our own Rev Graham Horsley was a member of the working party that produced it; indeed its only non-Anglican member - and his trademarks show through in the text on occasions!
The report starts with the changing contexts underlying the current mission situation and then deals widely with the possibilities offered by what has become the latest ‘buzz-word’: fresh expressions of church. Just when we thought that church planting was very 1990s and a bit passé, it has morphed into ‘fresh expressions’ with a whole new raft of ideas and experiences.
A clear account is given of many such fresh expressions, with useful real-life examples of each and a worthwhile critical - albeit necessarily brief - discussion. They include alternative worship communities, base communities (associated with the liberation theology movement), café church, cell church, community initiatives, multiple and midweek congregations, network churches, school-linked congregations, seeker churches, traditional forms attracting new interest (such as cathedral worship) and youth congregations.
To a large extent this is intended to inform local churches of the possibilities and to act as a kind of ‘menu’ to think through what might have applications for them - which is exactly what parishes have been asked to do, and to help with this there are discussion questions at the close of each chapter.
Importantly and helpfully, the issues are set into a theological context in a chapter on ‘Theology for a missionary church’, in a way that is partly apologetic and partly helping readers to gain a better understanding of what many readers will see as a rather amorphous concept. Suggested methodologies and frameworks follow, a fair amount of which is specific to the Anglican structures and legal context and so less relevant to other readers.
Much of the ground covered by Mission-shaped church is also discussed in Evangelism - which way now? (see our two earlier reviews of this title on the website) and to some extent this is a duplication, although the perspectives are complementary. Evangelism - which way now? was published just before Mission-shaped church, but a second, revised edition is due later this year which will no doubt connect directly with the report and its impact.
I can firmly commend the report to non-Anglicans as most of it is of much wider application and interest. This is especially so for Methodists, given our participation not only in the working party but now in the Fresh Expressions organisation (www.freshexpressions.org.uk) that has been set up to take this work forward, through the appointment of the Rev Pete Pillinger to the team. This year’s President of Conference, the Rev Tom Stuckey is also majoring on the possibilities of ‘fresh expressions’ so make sure you read-up before he visits your District (there is a free download of the first 29 pages of the report on http://www.chbookshop.co.uk!).
But lest we get too denominational and institutional, one of my favourite clips from the report is this: ‘Younger generations are moving from being ecumenical to being post-denominational ... simply being authentic Christians seems sufficient to them’. Nice one.