Starting Something New in Fresh Expressions of Church

7 Nov 2021 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Starting Something New in Fresh Expressions of Church

Recently I interviewed Lauren Harkness – Managing Director of Rise Events and Sanctuary – about how Rise got started as a Fresh Expression of Church and how it has developed over time. The interview was part of a Mission Shaped Mission training session organised by Uniting Mission and Education that I was teaching online with participants from the Illawarra Presbytery.

The teaching session was about “Starting Something New”, and aimed to help us understand the elements needed in and the main practicalities of starting a fresh expression of church; that there is no set way or sequence in starting a fresh expression of church; the need for a flexible approach that understands the interplay between planning, discernment and action.


The interview with Lauren was directed at illustrating one of the useful frameworks for getting started on fresh expressions of church – the “Loving First Journey”. This is the framework on which the Godsend App* is based, and can be pictured as in the diagram here:

The interview took Lauren back to her beginning thoughts for Rise. In what Lauren described we could hear elements of the listening circle. She was listening to who she was; what she knew; and who she knew. Lauren has passion and deep desire for a retreat space for women. She has a great skill set around managing events and holding space for people. And she knew other women who were also looking for a retreat space. As she listened to God in prayer and worship, she felt called to start Rise Retreats for women. Key people in her family and church life encouraged her in this direction, and so Rise Retreats was started.
At the time Lauren was moving toward starting Rise Retreats, she was working as an events manager, and in that workspace, and with the retreats, she was connecting with women in small business. As she listened to them, ideas for better meet ups and networking for women in business began to take shape. Typical business meet ups have a strong competitive edge to them, with each trying to pitch their own business interest over the others, and there is only one space reserved for each kind of business. Lauren heard a longing for support and community that was absent from the available business meet ups. Again, with Lauren’s passion and skill set in holding space for others, it made sense to seek to lovingly serve these women in business by offering meet ups inspired by hospitality.
As the community grew among the women in those regular business meet ups, Lauren began to find herself having side conversations with a few of the women. They had noticed Lauren’s Christian basis to what was offered in the retreats and business meet ups, and it sparked conversations about how they used to attend a church many years ago, or their reasons for feeling uncomfortable in church or for leaving church. Lauren had not expected to be fielding such significant conversations about faith in Christ, or to be sharing what Jesus means to her. It was both daunting and exciting at the same time.
With this handful of women individually asking deeper questions about faith, Lauren began to consider the need for holding another space for these women where together they could support each other in the questions they had. To this end, Lauren is offering a new space called “At the Table” meeting fortnightly. Here they gather around a cheeseboard in the evening in space shaped for conversation. Some of the flavours of church are emerging as these women explore relationship with God, with each other, with the wider church and with the world. The time includes prayers of thanksgiving as part of the grace. One of the women was delighted to be asked to offer prayer in this space.
From the conversation with Lauren in the interview it was sounding like she had been doing this all by herself, and there is a part of that which is true. However, Lauren went on to describe others who are involved or who are supporting Rise. These include Rise Ambassadors who are equipped with Rise Ministries tools to host events, retreats and gatherings where they are in their community. The Rise Advisory Committee offers important insights for the stage Rise is at and its future directions. Rise chaplain – Rev Sarah Agnew, is part of the Advisory Committee and also offers support to events of Rise, including “At the Table”. There are also important relationship of support, encouragement and training with Uniting Mission and Education of our Synod (including Mission Shaped Ministry training) and with Presbytery.
The interview with Lauren was a great means of telling some of the story of Rise, and also provided a very helpful illustration of the Loving First Journey for the Illawarra cohort undertaking the Mission Shaped Ministry training. If you would like to find out more about Rise Events and Sanctuary, a good place to start is the website that you can find through this link -
If you are interested in a group from your congregation taking part in the Mission Shaped Ministry training, or the shorter more introductory Godsend training, please contact me.
* The Godsend App is free, and you can download it by searching for 'fx godsend' in the App Store or Google Play. Look for the Australian version.