Where Is the Emerging Church?

Where Is the Emerging Church? April 13, 2013
photo by Steve Knight

No one knows more about the ECM, especially in the UK, than Jonny Baker. He’s been around since before the beginning, and he’s published on it as well. Recently, he received an email asking what happened to the emerging church, and he posted his response on his blog:

i was asked a question via e-mail this week from a pastor in the usa which i thought i’d run by you. it went something like this…

I have noticed that many of the emerging church blogs and websites have dried up. Where I live, there were virtually zero churches doing what you were doing. I like to play and create and offer worship experiences that are different from the traditional 1900’s models; however, I have found it difficult to find folks in my area who share this.  These blogs were my discussions of ideas, etc. Have these churches and creators of worship arts gone somewhere else, or are they just gone? If you have suggestions on where else I can go to find discussion and idea creation for alternative worship, I would greatly appreciate it!

i sent a reply saying that i thought a lot was happening but inevitably the conversation moves and things like twitter and facebook have had a part to play in that. but equally the phases of the church reconfiguring that were called emerging church and alternative worship have been passed through i suspect. lots of things now seem to be configuring around mission and community. quite a few people have got involved in moving worship into public space which is good. others are gathered round meal tables in small missional communities under the radar. but i do think it’s harder to find groups who are creating worship that grabs the imagination, soul and spirit.

via jonnybaker: a question….

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  • It seems to me that the emerging church has simply become a phenomenon like the Jesus movement or the worship wars. It is simply being absorbed by the structures that already exist in Christendom. It will have left some of the current institutions better and will have added a few more divisions that will become their own structures within Christianity. I observed this at the recent Memphis conference. I went hoping for a conversation, but instead found a group of progressives who seemed to be looking for ways to go back to there current congregations and make them bigger and better. I don’t believe that was the intent of JOPA, Phyliss Tickle or any of the leaders, but I do believe that the dialogue is shutting down and the new voices are finding it hard to speak into the conversation. They are being drowned out by those wanting to mimic what they see as a new model for their congregations.
    The issues are not where its at. The discussions are nothing more than a continuation of Enlightenment/Reformation thinking. We may want to move to something different than things like sola scriptura, but we are still using it’s methods to argue our points. So we think it is progressive to argue our support of LGBT and other things using the same means of scriptural reasoning that those who don’t support it do. The institutions and structures and power/control hierarchies are what we need to be addressing. Open sourcing ideas in a flat world culture on what is relevant and what will enable us to winsomely share the stories of God and life in this massive cultural change time is essential. We seem to still be tweaking how we do it rather than opening up creative channels to completely re-think the tools of institution and the frame/s we use to highlight the incredible piece of art we have in our possession.

  • Tony,

    Thanks for sharing this ECM perspective. Essentially, this movement does not offer anything distinctive or essential, as even your focus reflects: “but i do think it’s harder to find groups who are creating worship that grabs the imagination, soul and spirit.”

    Perhaps we need more than “worship that grabs the imagination, soul and spirit.” If this is the epitome of the ECM, the world can do it better. It is unencumbered by any concern about conformity to the idea of “worship.” It can therefore be exclusively man-centered, catering to our immediate desires and tastes more effectively.

    Perhaps we need the Gospel – the Holy Spirit applying grace through the Word.

  • Bill Colburn

    What ’emerged’ was a generation of ‘nones’ not identifiable by where they meet, by any similarity of thinking, nor by any form of practice. The ’emerging’ generation not only left the buildings, but also abandoned the ‘structure’ of religious thinking. Those who called themselves ’emergent’, yet were from fundamentalist backgrounds, have merely become liturgical. Those who came from a stuffy liturgical background have found a new experience among the non-denominationals. In other words, for the most part, the emergent church merely rearranged the ‘pieces’ on the same chess board. Why? Read Pete Rollins.

    • Well put! What does the ECM offer? Superficialities!

    • After Rollins, read A. C. Grayling. Radical theology = humanism. 🙂

      • Bill Colburn

        I may have initially assumed too much in the beginnings of ’emergent’. I assumed that it was a movement focused on truth – wherever it took them. In the end it seems that ’emergent’ actually began having predetermined that the truth is Jesus. Maybe Rollins was more honest. Jesus is the Truth unless Jesus isn’t the truth. What if the truth isn’t anything we have believed? Are we willing to go there or have we decided that ‘no matter what’ we discover we will only be Christians? Isn’t a search for the truth the way of Jesus even if we find that He isn’t the truth? If we find truth beyond Jesus, but refuse to receive it, haven’t we denied Jesus as well – as He is the One who initiated our desire for truth? Rollins actually doesn’t exceed Christ as truth in practice, but invites us on an exploration of truth that has some integrity to it. Emergent appears to have abandoned integrity and thus has been largely abandoned except as a ‘tool’ to placate those who would otherwise leave church. I wouldn’t label this approach as humanism. It is just honesty.

        • Bill – I probably should have used “–>” rather than “=”. It was Rollins who gave me the courage to be honest and slide out the “/” from his powerfully discomforting “a/theism” and then progress to humanism.

  • T.S.Gay

    I have a friend on a conservative website who is way different than me. We’re both male, but he is business, I’m an educator. He’s urban, I’m rural. He’s pagan, I’m Christian. We’re different races, cultures. But one thing I totally agree with him on. He thinks worship has to be something where everyone participates. This is so true. We need multivoiced worship. When one attends a worship with predominantly one voice, or following those from a platform, who can consider such a worship to be that of a spiritual congregation? Please read the Anabaptist Eleanor Kreider for a better perspective than mine. I use two daily devotionals that she was a part of creating.
    Of course Jonny Baker has more to say about emerging than worship. But worship and mission after Christendom is an engaging subject that is a big part of emerging. The word may wax or wane, but worship is going to be mulrivoiced because God is the main actor and calls all to participate. Progressive is progression…. a call to praise, to discipleship, to intercession.

  • John McCauslin

    “Emergent” wasn’t going anywhere, just ‘away from’ what ‘was.’. Not that what ‘was’ was all that objectionable, just that the Emergents needed to do something new and different, to take a risk, when no one else was willing to take riaks. Kind of like a teenager. But eventually teenagers become more risk-averse, and they have children of their own, and they settle down and settle back into the old patterns, the ones that always worked for their parents before.

    And they abandoned the struggle against conformity. But hopefully their faith lives are informed by their experiences, and hopefully they go forward at the very least with a more generous orthodoxy.

  • Jeff Kursonis

    I never thought Emergent was a thing you could point to, but a movement of an amorphous bunch of people out of their past traditions and on toward some new unknown thing which would require lots of experimentation, and theological conversation…and that is still happening…yes it’s had waves, or trends as all these people and groups have continued to evolve…so candles and creative liturgies were really big and exciting at one point, and now more missional and local community serving is one exciting trend with the parish model and combining eco-food-justice with shared meals, and all the above paralleled with vibrant theological discussions and radical personal/group change, like going from being a crude gay joking jerk (like me) to being an advocate of same sex marriage (like me)…it’s all just one long ongoing forward motion of emergence from what was to what is ahead.

    Of course you could argue that’s always happening in the church, and I hope it is, but I think it’s more than usual during some periods of more concentrated intense change, and I think we are in one of those periods, or windows, which might last some good number of decades, and I would call that multi-decade period, a time of emergence. So emergent isn’t dead, nothings happened to it, it’s just rolling on, and if you had thought that one snapshot of a moment in time that you’d observed of emergent was it, and now wondering where that is…well, just look up ahead a bit and you’ll see it rolling on in it’s new incarnation.

  • I don’t see the “emerging church” as being a thing as much as a mindset where people think for themselves and seek to understand and become the church that Christ intended, rather than perpetuating traditions and practices that were thought up and implemented by man. The fact that people ask the question; “Where is it” shows that they don’t understand what “it” is in the first place. The tendency we have is to view it as we do any other denomination, or organized group of believers. It’s not, and the minute it becomes that, it will be dead.