State of Emergent Cohorts 2012

State of Emergent Cohorts 2012 May 21, 2012

Charlotte Emergent cohort

According to Emergent cohort guru Mike Clawson, there were about 50-60 active Emergent cohorts across the U.S. as of June 2011. That’s about half of the 100+ cohorts that were going just four years ago. And, anecdotally, it seems 50-60 may be a high number just one year later, because only a handful of cohorts are really visibly doing much.

Our cohort in Charlotte, NC, just celebrated eight years of monthly Meetups, and 2012 has been one of the busiest years we’ve ever had with special events, national speakers coming through the Queen City, and upcoming events to look forward to.

One of the other longest-running cohorts in the country, the Chicago Up/Rooted cohort is still going strong, thanks to the leadership of Kris Socall. The Central Ohio cohort (Columbus) is still kicking, thanks to Jesse Schroeder. (They even support some missionaries in Cambodia!)

The Metro Atlanta Emergence group is still kicking, thanks to Jeff Straka, Florin Paladie, and a host of other great people. I had the opportunity to visit with the Broward County, FL, cohort folks last year, which was a lot of fun. The Emerging Desert community in Phoenix is navigating that interesting space between being a cohort and being a new kind of faith community.

There are a handful of others I could list and name, but I’m skeptical that the list today would add up to 50. At the same time, I know there is a constant stream of people contacting Mike Clawson expressing interest in being a part of a cohort or establishing a new one where they are. We’ve had two more small cohorts startup just in the last couple of years in the greater Charlotte area — one in Statesville, NC, and one in Salisbury, NC.

I’m convinced that Emergent cohorts still serve a very valuable purpose, and more attention can and should be given to developing this network of theological conversations happening across the country. Part of the reason cohorts are so valid is because there are still very few churches that are creating space for hosting open, robust theological discussions.

Chris Smith writes about the experience of Englewood Christian Church in his e-book The Virtue of Dialogue, which is a fantastic guide for faith communities that want to learn how to bring this kind of theological conversation “in-house.” But, for now, the reality still seems to be that these grassroots, self-organized groups are the most reliable place to find people open to asking questions, discussing “heretical” ideas, etc.

So what should we do to foster cohort life and grow this network of theological conversations?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what should be done. If you consider yourself a cohort member, a cohort leader, or just someone interested in being a part of an Emergent cohort, please post your thoughts in the comments!

One suggestion I would like to make: We need to have a national gathering of Emergent cohort leaders, members, and others! And I can’t think of a better time/place for this than the Wild Goose Festival here in North Carolina next month (June 21-24). If you are planning to come to Wild Goose, please let me know by posting in the comments or getting in touch with me another way. I’d love to connect with as many of you who will be at the festival as possible to continue this conversation in person about where we go from here. I hope to see many of you there!

NOTE: You can get 15% off tickets to Wild Goose Festival now through Wednesday, May 23, by using promotional code EMERGENT.

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  • Pat Pope

    How about a Google Hangout or Facebook group so that we can hear from one another and maybe learn how to get one going? I live in Cleveland the last time I asked about a cohort in the area, it took a while before someone responded and it turned out that there wasn’t an active one but I could start one if interested. I feel like if I were to start one that I need some ideas or at least someone else to kind of encourage me. How do I start? How do I articulate what I’m looking for? It’s very possible there are already people in my area, but I just don’t know they’re here.

    • Kathy

      I also live in northeast Ohio and would be interested in a conversation about starting a cohort in Cleveland.

  • Pat, if you contacted Emergent about interest in a cohort in Cleveland (Ohio? Tennessee?), then most likely Mike Clawson still has your information and if anyone else from that area contacts Emergent/Mike, then he’ll probably try and connect you with each other. That’s the system (as I understand it), right now. There’s also a Google Map that you can stick a pin in to show where you are and see if there’s anyone else in your nearby vicinity who is also interested in starting a cohort. It really does help if you have another person or a small group (2-3 people) who want to start something with you.

    You don’t have to meet often (many cohorts meet just once a month), and it doesn’t need to be highly programmed — our cohort gatherings are usually pretty wide open, freewheeling conversations on a wide variety of topics. It can be just that, or more, if you want it to be. Creating a Facebook group might be a great way to get some initial interest building and start “gathering” people online before you actually have a face-to-face meetup. Those are just a few of the thoughts that come to my mind. Hope this helps!

    • Pat Pope

      Thanks. And that’s Cleveland, Ohio.

      • Cleveland rocks.

      • Pat – if you ever make it into the Columbus area, we’d love to meet up! Also, I have family in Cleveland, and will probably be visiting this summer. Maybe we could get coffee. (

        As far as getting started, our cohort started with an online invite to whoever wanted to meet, and there were 5 of us in a living room talking about Brian McLaren books. 4 years later, we meet almost every week and have a great community of friends. So, you just get started, and see what comes of it. A blog is the best way to get online exposure, in our experience. Good luck!

      • Kristen

        Hi Pat – I used to be a part of the Central Ohio Emergent Cohort w/ Jesse before moving to Cleveland. I would definitely be open to meeting up and discussing how a cohort might emerge in Cleveland! Feel free to email me (

  • Pat, BTW – there’s also a Facebook group for Emergent Village cohort leaders/organizers/facilitators/hosts, but it hasn’t really been utilized much (as far as I can tell):

    • Pat Pope

      Thanks, Steve. I’ll take a look at it.

  • Yup. Lets do it.

    • see you there, Callid! Mike Clawson and I will be co-hosting an Emergent cohort leader/participant gathering at Wild Goose, which I guess we’ll call the Wild Goose Cohort 😉

  • DC Cohort is alive and well, if small and pretty laid back about whether we actually gather in a given month or not. Here’s our FB group:

    Now that co-founder and awesome church planter Jason Mack has moved to the midwest to be a Methodist associate pastor, that brings us down to five semi-regular attenders, three of whom are from the little church I’m a part of. So I could see it petering out, though we’d then have to come up with some other excuse to hang out with Sara and Todd.

    I think that “emergent” is less of a thing out there in front of people’s eyes and brains than it used to be, so there are fewer people who would think to seek out an “emergent” cohort. The vast bulk of the newbies who’ve come to our gatherings in recent years have been connected with Wesley Seminary – which is not too surprising since both of our co-founders (Jason and Sara) and now two of our other regular attenders (Amy and Mike) are or have been students and/or teachers and/or staff at Wesley.

    It’s mostly become an excuse for a few friends to see one another regularly. I’m not sure what would make it grow, now, even if we wanted it too, unless Emergent Village became more of a publicly-known entity again.

    • Pat Pope

      Mike, maybe for some it’s meant to be for a season; meeting a need for a particular time and space. I think emergent cohorts can serve different purposes and it can be just as simple as a few people getting together, nourishing one another spiritually or it can be more formalized and grow into an organization of sorts. I think that speaks to the emergent spirit–the lack of a rigid structure that must be ascribed to.

    • FWIW — D.C. also has this excellent group, led by my friend (and fellow Disciple of Christ) Glenn Zuber, which is hosting regular gatherings for theological conversation on a wide variety of topics:

      It’s not officially an Emergent cohort, but it serves much the same purpose, I would say!

  • Oh, and I’m totally up for a meetup at the Goose. Like, honk.

    • Done! It’s happening! Mike Clawson and I are officially convening the Wild Goose Cohort. It’ll be epic.

  • I would love a cohort in Santa Cruz, California. Seems like it’s an ideal town for a cohort. Or maybe San Jose or the south Bay area somewhere. But I haven’t seen any sign of interest.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Steve! Now I’ve got a couple of things I’ll be brainstorming and getting back to you on 😉

  • Daniel Robertson

    The Birmingham, AL cohort hasn’t been too active as of late. Tyler & Helen Priest are currently over seas. They were very influential in our meetings but I know there are still many ppl that wold enjoy meeting u again. I’ll b at WGF & would love to talk w/ others about this. Hope your well Steve!

    • See you soon, Daniel! Looking fwd to continuing this conversation at the Goose …

  • Rick Janzen

    I would love to participate in a cohort up here in B.C. Canada. So far my only ‘conversations’ have been informal and brief. There seems to be some grass roots interest in some of the topics of theological conversation, but again not so much within the organized structure. Any contacts up here that you can share?

  • I’d like to clarify that the Central Ohio Emergent Cohort (Columbus, Ohio) is definitely kicking – we meet almost every week – but certainly not only thanks to me! We have a great group of people, all of whom are involved in planning and hosting events. Shout outs to the Newbys, Nick, Matt, Ian and Nikki, the Millers, and everyone else from to COEC!!

  • AndyM

    Humour me. The activities described above as taking place in the cohorts sound very much like what happens in mid-week bible study groups that are part of most churches I’ve belonged to. How does it differ / what does it offer that is not available within the framework of whatever local churches offer?

    • AndyM, I’d say most cohorts do not function as traditional Bible studies at all. Here’s the difference: Bible studies usually follow a specific reading list or book study, and, while Emergent cohorts discuss Scripture, it’s usually in a much more free-flowing theological discussion format rather than a structured “let’s all read this passage of Scripture together and discuss it.” And because cohorts are usually structured more as “theological discussion groups” they are unique because most churches do not create space for that kind of free-form, open source theological conversation.

      If I can be completely crass and paint with broad brushstrokes for a moment … Most churches want to train leaders to indoctrinate people into a certain way of reading the text to embrace a certain theology or ideology as prescribed by that church and that denomination. Emergent cohorts are usually pretty diverse groups of people from all backgrounds and Christian traditions (or no church background at all), and the point isn’t theological agreement but “iron sharpening iron,” asking tough questions, engaging in robust theological discussion, and agreeing to disagree.