Propelled by the Internet, the “emerging church” is gaining followers among Protestants of all stripes who want more community in their Christianity. What they share is youth, a drive to make Christianity relevant, a preference for small communities, frustration with traditional church structures, and an embrace of culture.
As the emerging church – also known as the postmodern church or “po mo” — evolves, it’s also diversifying. Some want to transcend boundaries between conservative evangelicals and liberal mainline churches. Others are seeking more leadership opportunities for women and non-Anglos. And many churches, though they’re not all about youth or culture, are borrowing ideas from the emerging church trend, available through the Internet, conferences, books and CDs. Jewish leaders hoping to engage more youth have even consulted with emerging church groups.
Another hallmark of the scene is a strong anti-church sentiment. Few of these young congregations call themselves churches. Leaders say they turned to emerging ideas out of frustration with churches’ lack of emphasis on evangelism, lack of outreach to society’s poor and neglected, and divisive denominational politics. Among emerging churches, many hold fast to conservative roots while others are willing to question traditional Christian teachings.
Some expect the movement to have profound implications for the future of Christianity in the United States. Barna Research found in 2003 that just three of 10 people in their 20s and four of 10 in their 30s attend church in a typical week, compared with nearly half of those 40 or older. Director George Barna told Pennsylvania’s Allentown Morning Call that he expects traditional churches to lose about half their “market share” by 2025, with alternative spiritual experiences picking up the disaffected.
Why it matters
Participants in emerging church may help reshape faith groups’ relationship to their communities and to traditional church structures. That, in turn, can affect the way churches participate in addressing social problems and public issues.
Questions for reporters
• To find local emerging churches, post a request for help on one of the blogs below or email some prominent bloggers. The emerging community is warm, communicative and open, accustomed to networking and emailing.
• Try to locate several styles of emerging churches. Look for those both inside and outside denominations, for conservative churches and radical, question-everything congregations. Contrast their politics – some will be liturgically experimental but politically conservative; others question traditional evangelical stances on everything, including gay rights and abortion.
• Ask congregants and leaders what, in their world view, is absolute and what is up for discussion. The issue of relativism is the theological divide between moderate and radically liberal emerging groups. Ask how they engage with the non-church community around them: Do they engage the outside culture only to evangelize or, for example, to do good works, too? What does “missional” mean to them? How do they interpret the call to evangelize?
• Ask congregants if they are just searching for new means of worship or are actually rejecting church. If so, what experiences and traditions are they rejecting?
• Find churches experimenting with alternative worship forms and inquire what they get from these; ask church historians to trace the roots of ancient practices such as mazes, labyrinths and chanting.
The emerging church seems to be forking in three directions, says scholar Ed Stetzer in his forthcoming book, Breaking the Missional Code: When Churches Become Missionaries in Their Communities (co-author David Putman, Broadman & Holman Publishers, May 2006). The most conservative fork accepts the gospel and the church in their historic forms but seeks to make them more understandable in contemporary culture. A second fork accepts the gospel but questions and reconstructs much of the traditional church form. The third, the most radical, questions and re-envisions both the gospel and the church.
CONCEPTS AND DEFINITIONS
POSTMODERN: Describes a worldview of transition that is replacing the modern perspective, which was based on knowledge and the belief in rational science. Networking, dubiousness and community are in; the autonomous individual, faith in progress, authority, structure and hierarchy are out. Ultimately, conservatives contend, postmodernism cannot be reconciled with evangelical Christianity and its dependence on certainties and absolutes.
MISSIONAL: A bedrock notion of emerging church, conservative or liberal, is the commitment to sharing the gospel. The idea is to become a representative of Christ to the surrounding culture.
CONTEXT: Emerging folks talk a lot about context, by which they mean local culture, be it suburban, urban, techie, street or Goth. Think of missionaries embracing a foreign culture to make their message credible. Unlike their fundamentalist forebears who shunned the secular world, emerging Christians participate enthusiastically in the world around them – enjoying coffee, a beer, basketball, the Internet or alternative music – endeavoring to bring (or simply live out) Jesus’ message. The emphasis is less on heaven and more about reaching out to help those in need in the here and now. Followers try to imagine the life and times of Jesus and how he responded to his world. Scholar and author Ed Stetzer says the emerging church is grounded in Scripture but applied in culture. He tells church planters: Don’t pastor the community in your head, pastor the community around you.
ALTERNATIVE (ALT) WORSHIP: Much of the energy in the emerging church scene centers on energizing worship and reviving ancient practices, often seen as more genuine, raw and meaningful. The goal: a more “biblical” church. In language typical of the thoughtful, sometimes wonky intellectualism of the emerging scene, one participant calls this trend toward old forms of worship “paleo orthodoxy.” Their parents strived for clear explanations and modernized practices; emerging worshippers value mystery, transcendence and the experience of communion. Some say their churches have more in common with churches of the apostolic era than with those of the 20th century.
DIVERSITY: Despite its desire to mirror contemporary culture, the emergent conversation is conspicuously white and male. Many emerging congregations support women’s equal participation in church leadership, but they come from traditions that promote men’s leadership over women’s. An increasing number of women and people of color are speaking out in the movement. For example, an Emergent Women’s ReGathering event is being organized for late April through the Emergent Village site. See a list of leaders who are trying to diversify the movement.
WEB SITES AND BLOGS
The emerging network lives in large part through online discussions and blogs. Look for links to other sites on emerging faith and culture. Here are a few of the most influential sites:
• ZoeCarnate is a central site on emerging church.
• The Ooze is another central emerging-church forum.
• Acts29network.org is both a site and an international network of emerging churches. See the “churches” tab for a list of affiliates nationally; check “news and events” for events nationally at the conservative end of the emerging spectrum.
• The Emerging Leaders Network is a community of friendship, exploration and theological conversation among people interested in emerging churches and faith communities.
• Emergent Village is the center of the emergent stream of the emerging conversation. Emergent is a more experimental – and sometimes more liberal-minded — group, influenced by Brian McLaren. Member congregations include Church of the Apostles in Seattle; Vintage Faith in Santa Cruz, Calif.; Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis; Jacob’s Well in Kansas City, Mo.; and McLaren’s Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Md.
• See The Well‘s slide show for a taste of the informality and nontraditional organization of space at an emerging church.
• Off The Map is a nonprofit that produces seminars, workshops, conferences, published multimedia and written materials, a web site and an Ezine called Idealab.
• Synagogue 3000 (S3K) is a national, not-for-profit institute dedicated to revitalizing and re-energizing synagogue life in North America. The emergent Jews and Christians engage each other, too, about revitalization. Read Doug Pagitt’s comments on the phenomenon.
• For a sense of the distance between conservative and liberal emerging evangelicals, read Mark Driscoll’s “rant” about Brian McLaren and homosexuality at the Christianity Today blog, Out of Ur.
• Read “The Paradox of Emerging Leadership,” thoughts posted by pastor Dan Kimball on March 7, 2006, on Out of Ur, a blog at Christianity Today magazine’s site.
• Read “The State of Emergent 2006” by Tony Jones, national coordinator of Emergent-US. The article is posted at Next-Wave, an Ezine devoted to emerging church issues.
• Read “Understanding the emerging church,” a Jan. 6, 2006, article in the Baptist Press in which the Rev. Ed Stetzer describes three streams of emerging congregations – “relevants,” “reconstructionists” and “revisionists.”
• Read “Faith a la Carte? The Emergent Church” in the July/August 2005 issue of Modern Reformation magazine. The issue includes articles by and interviews of key figures in the movement, including Brian McLaren and Stanley Grenz, and nuanced criticism by D.A. Carson and the magazine’s editor in chief, Michael Horton.
• Read The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Aug. 8, 2005, article, “‘Emergent’ churches seek a looser approach,” focused on The Well, an emerging community in Feasterville, Pa.
• Read “Baptist scholar sounds a warning to ‘emerging church’,” in the Baptist Press on Nov. 28, 2005, describing tension between conservative and liberal Christianity over postmodern Christian theology.
• Read about emerging leader Andrew Jones in the April 9, 2001, Texas Baptist Standard. Read “What I Mean When I Say ‘Emerging-Missional’ Church” by Jones in the Next-Wave Church and Culture Ezine.
• Read a Nov. 30, 2003, Seattle Times profile of Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll.
• Engaging the mainstream culture – whether to do it and how – is a historic concern for Christians. Read Beliefnet’s “The Fundamentalist-Evangelical Split,” which tells how evangelicals traditionally have engaged the world around them while fundamentalists have held back.
• Read author and New Testament scholar Scot McKnight’s list of attributes of the emerging movement.
• See a list of the five fundamentals of conservative Christianity at the site of Wake Forest University.
• See a list of emerging church resources on the Next-Wave blog.
LEADERS IN EMERGING CHURCH MOVEMENT
• Dan Kimball wrote The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Zondervan, 2003), in which he coined the phrase “vintage Christianity” for the experience of a generation in search of mysterious, authentic, deeply spiritual and thoughtful faith outside traditional churches. He also wrote Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Zondervan, 2004), about expressions of church worship beyond preaching and singing. His next book, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church (Zondervan), looks at common negative perceptions of Christianity and church. He is pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif., a young congregation that uses technology, pop music, painting during worship and early rituals such as fasting, prayer stations and silence. The church has attracted numerous artists. Read his blog. Contact 831-429-1058, email@example.com.
• Ed Stetzer wrote Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003) and Planting Missional Churches (Broadman & Holman), to be published in May 2006, and numerous other books. He is missions specialist and research team director at the North American Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and is a founding pastor at Lake Ridge Church in Cumming, Ga., an Atlanta suburb. Contact 770-410-6378, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Brian D. McLaren, founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Burtonsville, Md., is a central figure in the movement. He is a lightning rod among emerging thinkers because of his interest in the intersection of faith and progressive politics. His nine books on the subject include the popular A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Jossey-Bass/Leadership Network, 2001). His latest book is A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN (Emergent/YS/Zondervan, 2004). He is on the board of Sojourners. Contact through Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126, email@example.com.
• Tony Jones, a Princeton Theological Seminary doctoral candidate, estimates there are several hundred emerging churches in the United States. Jones is an authority on the emerging church movement, postmodernism, youth ministry and church evolution. He is national coordinator of Emergent-US, a network of emerging churches. He’s also a volunteer police chaplain in Edina, Minn. He wrote Postmodern Youth Ministry (Zondervan, 2001). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Doug Pagitt is pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. He is the author of, among several books, Reimagining Spiritual Formation: A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church (Zondervan, 2004). He calls 6-year-old Solomon’s Porch one of the more progressive expressions of the emerging church effort. Contact 612-874-6555, email@example.com.
• Andrew Jones, a New Zealander and a pivotal emerging thinker, has been blogging tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com since 2001 – a long time as these things go. He is project director for the Boaz Project, based in the Czech Republic and developing “a support structure for church in the emerging culture.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Mark Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church, a fast-growing, nondenominational, theologically conservative congregation in Seattle’s urban Ballard neighborhood. Contact 206-706-6641, email@example.com.
• Leonard Sweet is E. Stanley Jones professor of evangelism at Drew University in Madison, N.J., and has been dean of the theological school there. Sweet is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Karen Elizabeth Rennie, are the primary contributors to the web-based preaching resource preachingplus.com. A popular speaker, he has written numerous books, including (with Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer) A Is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2003). Contact Lenisweet@aol.com.
LEADERS TRYING TO DIVERSIFY THE MOVEMENT
• Blogger Elizabeth Potter is the co-founder of (f)emergent, a network of female emergents, and is part of the Emergent Coordinating Group. She writes about her emerging community, her work as a local ecumenical activist and church planter and her life as an ordained minister in Grand Haven, Mich. Potter wonders: As one weary of being directed to the “pastors’ wives’ luncheon,” do I and my fellow (f)emergents break off and do our own thing? Or do we hang in there, hoping that enlightenment and intentional inclusion happens before emergent becomes emerged and … the next fresh movement of God’s Spirit in the Church? For now, many are choosing both. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Karen Ward is abbess of the Lutheran-Episcopal Church of the Apostles in Seattle’s hip, urban Fremont neighborhood. She can discuss the emerging movement within the Episcopal denomination. The African-American woman pastor can discuss the quest for diversity among the largely white, male-led emerging movement. Contact email@example.com.
• Andre Daley, an African-American evangelical, calls himself “post-emergent” because he has not seen the racial, gender and cultural inclusiveness that he had hoped for in the emerging movement. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Kelly Bean is pastor of a Portland, Ore., house community, Third Saturday. She is a member of the founding team of the Emerging Women Leaders Initiative and serves on the board of directors of Off The Map. Bean’s history included a painful departure from a beloved conservative congregation that excluded women from leadership. She says: The territory is often uncharted for women leaders. Even so, many gifted women are pioneering in the emerging church. Change still is needed, though, for men and women to minister as equals. Contact Redwarior7@aol.com.
SCHOLARS, OBSERVERS AND CRITICS
• Robert E. Webber teaches history of worship and spirituality and is William R. and Geraldyne B. Myers chair of ministry at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Ill. He has written many books. The publication of his The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World (Baker, 2002) was a turning point in contemporary evangelical history, reporting on grass-roots changes in forms of conservative Christian worship and community. Contact 630-705-8255, email@example.com.
• Ryan K. Bolger is an assistant professor of church in contemporary culture in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He is a scholar of the emerging scene and, with Fuller professor Eddie Gibbs, wrote Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Baker Academic, 2005). Contact 626-584-5263, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Diana Butler Bass is senior research fellow and director of the Project on Congregations of Intentional Practice, a Lilly Endowment-funded study of mainline Protestant vitality at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va. She is working on two books, Christianity for the Rest of Us (Harper, 2006) and Episcopalians in America (Columbia University Press, 2007). Contact 703-370-6600, email@example.com, or reach her through publicist Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• John Hammett, professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., warns that the emerging church is in danger of being overly influenced by secular culture. He is the author of Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Kregel Publications, 2005). Contact 919-761-2480, email@example.com.
• Noted Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann is an appreciative observer of the emergent conversation. He is professor emeritus from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. Contact 404-687-4556, BrueggemannW@CTSnet.edu.
• George Barna is directing leader of The Barna Group, an evangelical research company in Ventura, Calif. Contact 805-639-0000, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Donald A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. A critic of emerging church, he wrote Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications (Zondervan, 2005). Contact 847-317-8081.
• Alan Roxburgh is president of Missional Leadership Institute, a consulting and training organization based in Vancouver, B.C.,that works to transform denominations and congregations in a missional (missionary) direction. Roxburgh welcomes the emerging movement yet sees it in the context of the breakdown of structure and institutions. He urges followers of both traditional, structured churches and the less-structured emerging movement to abandon the either-or picture that some hold of contemporary Christian church life. Contact 604-341-4144, email@example.com.
STATE BY STATE
• Theologian Miroslav Volf, director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, is a favorite scholar of emerging church leaders. He wrote Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Zondervan, 2006). Contact 203-432-5332, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• David F. Wells is an ordained Congregationalist minister and is the Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. He is an expert on religion and postmodernism and can discuss how the Christian faith is adjusting to a new culture. He wrote Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005). Wells calls emerging church the third major constituency of evangelicals (after the traditional postwar evangelical generation and the later, pragmatic seekers, typified by Willow Creek Community Church). Contact 978-468-7111, email@example.com.
• Brad Jackson is pastor of the 40-member emergent church The Well in Feasterville, Pa. Contact 215-364-5288, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Jeffrey K. Jue, assistant professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pa., is a critic of the emerging church movement. Contact 800-373-0119.
• Heather Kirk-Davidoff is a pastor in Maryland and serves on the board of Emergent. She is founder of the Emerging Women Leaders Initiative. Contact email@example.com.
• John Kenney is pastor of the Quest Church in Augusta, Ga., affiliated with the United Methodist Church. (“We’re real people who don’t have it all together, but who are taking the journey of life together.”) Weekly attendance varies from 40 to 60 people of all ages. The emergent identity is unusual in the denomination and the congregation sees itself as a mission. Quest’s focus is community, relationships and exploration of faith by ancient and contemporary models and means. Contact 706-833-6170, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Bill J. Leonard, professor of church history and dean of Wake Forest University Divinity School in Winston-Salem, N.C., says emerging church movement members are trying to recapture the intimacy of the early church. Contact 336-758-5121, email@example.com.
• Lauren F. Winner is the author of three books, including the popular Girl Meets God: A Memoir (Random House, 2003), about coming to Christianity in her 20s. She is completing a doctorate in the history of American religion and lives in Durham, N.C. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Kenneth J. Surin, literature professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C., wrote the entry on postmodernity in the Encyclopedia of Protestantism (Routledge, 2004). Contact 919-684-4364, email@example.com.
• Liz Buxton is pastor at Cedar Grove and Harmony United Methodist churches in Alton, Va. She is working to connect women in the movement (they call themselves (f)emergents). Contact 434-753-2961, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The New Day Café in Largo, Fla., is an emerging community within the established Pathways Community Church. Contact Pastor Brian Saylor, 727-399-2360, email@example.com.
• Alan Creech has been blogging about his life in the church since 2002; he is a founding member of Vine + Branches Christian Community, an emerging community in Lexington, Ky. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• J. Ligon Duncan is minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss. He sees the emerging movement as another in a never-ending cavalcade of “what’s new” in the evangelical world. Contact 601-973-9104, email@example.com.
• Cary Fuller is active in the emerging conversation through her Indianapolis, Ind., church, The Dwelling Place, where her husband, Shane Fuller, is pastor. Although the emerging church is largely led by men, Cary Fuller points out that it is becoming more diverse and that its roots are in conservative denominations where women are not encouraged to question what they’ve been taught. Fuller’s congregational blog is intended to build relationships and create a safe atmosphere for questioning and debate. It mixes recipes and parenting chat with discussions of faith and theology. Contact CaryFuller@hotmail.com.
• John W. Riggs is professor of historical theology and church history at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He is an expert on Christianity in the postmodern world. Contact 314-918-2583, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• New Testament scholar Scot McKnight is an observer of the emerging church movement. The lack of concrete certainty about theology among many in the movement appeals to young seekers, McKnight says. He wrote The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Paraclete Press, 2004) and is Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University in Chicago. Contact 773-244-5783, email@example.com.
• Debbie Blue is a pastor and author of creative urban church in St. Paul, Minn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• A.K.M. “AKMA” Adam, an Episcopal priest, teaches New Testament and early church history at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. He has written numerous books and articles, including the forthcoming Faithful Interpretation: Reading the Bible in a Postmodern World (Fortress, October 2006). He is not an expert in the movement but a sympathetic, critical observer of it, maintaining an ongoing conversation with several active emerging church leaders and working with students interested in the subject. Contact 800-275-8235, email@example.com.
• Elaine Heath, McCreless Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, taught a class in spring 2006 called “Postmodernism, Evangelism and the Emergent Church.” Contact 214-768-2167, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Carl A. Raschke, relgious studies professor at the University of Denver, is the author of The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Baker Academic, 2004). Contact 303-871-3206, email@example.com.
• Roger Olson is an expert in historical theology and professor of religion at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. Olson co-chairs the evangelical theology group of the American Academy of Religion. He wrote the “theology of evangelicalism” entry in the Encyclopedia of Protestantism (Routledge, 2004). Contact 254-710-3755, Roger_Olson@baylor.edu.
• Danielle Grubb Shroyer is pastor of Journey Community Church in Dallas. She serves on the national Emergent Coordinating Group in the area of social justice. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Bob Hyatt is lead pastor at the Evergreen Community (Motto: “Life’s short, why not apply for an extension?”) a young emerging community that meets in a pub in Portland, Ore. Hyatt is a megachurch escapee who says American churches that get bigger and bigger foster a culture of church consumerism and they neglect individuals. Contact 503-997-0407, email@example.com.
• Mark Oestreicher is president of Youth Specialties in El Cajon, Calif. He is a leader in the emerging movement. Youth Specialties markets training seminars, conventions and educational materials to Christian workers. Oestreicher has authored numerous books and training materials that help youth workers present traditional Christian concepts to the modern youth sensibility. Contact 619-440-2333.
• Wade Clark Roof is F. Rowny Professor of Religion and Society and chairman of the religious studies department at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is a columnist for Beliefnet and author of, among other books, Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion (Princeton University Press, 2001). He is also editor in chief of Contemporary American Religion (Macmillan Reference USA, 1999). Roof says admonishments to believe in God and attend services regularly aren’t sufficient to help people make sense of today’s world – hence the attraction of the questioning alternative (emerging) church movement. Contact 805-893-7136, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Rose Madrid-Swetman is a pastor and social justice worker in Seattle. Contact email@example.com.
• Deborah Loyd is a pastor and planter of The Bridge Christian Church for street kids and socially disenfranchised people in Portland, Ore. She is writing a book about women in Christianity, Without a Voice. Contact 503-516-1415, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Rachelle Mee-Chapman is abbess and founder of a small urban abbey, ThPM (Thursday Night Gathering) in Seattle. Contact email@example.com.