- Exploring what it means to be Church

- Non-churchy Church

- Being Church, not going to Church

Those phrases are the tagline to the gathering known as Emerge which meets in Montreal. They could be the motto of much of the emerging church movement. Though even calling it a movement may be going too far. Some people prefer to speak in terms of a journey or an ongoing conversation. This article attempts to be both an introduction to this journey and a contribution to the conversation. I hope you will join in.

First a little clarification of three terms: Emerging, Emergent, and Missional.

 Emerging - The wider discussion is about 'emerging' church which can refer to any attempt to put ministry and mission into context with, or within, culture.

This rather broad definition is one of the reasons why there is some confusion about this subject. Many different styles of church and new Christian communities either claim or are given the tag 'emerging'.

Emergent tends to be used to refer to a cluster of churches and conversations centered on Emergent Village which grew out of the Leadership Network in the late 1990s in the US.

According to their web story, they began meeting because many of them "were disillusioned and disenfranchised by the conventional ecclesial [church] institutions of the late 20th century."

At the centre of this early movement is Tony Jones whose new book The New Christians is well worth reading. 'Emergent' people tend to be rather more dismissive of the more traditional forms of church. There also seems to be a rather macho white male power contest going on in some of the debates and conversations.

Some only use "emergent' to refer only to those groups which exhibit particular facets of behaviour based on emergence theory, such as simple structures and dispersed leadership.

The "Soul Space: Communion for the City" service that takes place every Tuesday at 6:15 pm at Christ Church Cathedral inVancouver

Missional is used to refer to churches and communities that understand themselves to be participant in the Missio Dei, the mission of God.


The phrase, coined by Karl Hartenstein in the 1950s, was used to move away from a church-centred or individualist notion of mission in order to keep the proper priority of God's action and our subsequent sharing in God's mission.

This is not, as Michael Frost powerfully argues in a YouTube video, a trendy add-on to rescue creaking churches, but a fundamentally different way of understanding the nature of church.

Many of these strands are woven together in the discussions we have been having in the diocese over the last few years.

The stress in our own diocesan Ministry Assessment Process (or 'MAP') is that our sharing in God's mission then shapes how we organise our churches.

Many people have the urgent feeling that the church has to be 'out there' in loving service meeting "human hurts and hopes."

There is an equally pressing perceived need for liturgy - the way we conduct our worship services -- in which new generations can speak for themselves.

Not least are our diocesan strategic priorities which call for action to reshape and equip us for mission.

Does this mean that all our churches are 'emerging'  No.

Most of our parishes and ministries are operating along more traditional lines. Some would argue that the only future is in 'emerging' - I am not so sure.

There is room for what has been called a 'mixed economy' church. That is, a robust networking of churches operating in different ways to meet the needs of their communities.

All of us must come to terms with the end of Christendom, when Christianity was the dominant (and sometimes only) religion. The answers that served in the 20th century will no longer work today.

A useful distinction between 'attractional' and 'emerging' was developed by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in The Shaping of Things to Come (2003).

The usual way we work in our parishes is to begin with our gathering for worship. That is what we do, are good at and are always striving to improve. A great deal of effort in recent years has gone into making what we do in and around our church buildings better and more attractive.

We have emphasised the importance of a great welcome to new people. We go out from there to share with others what we have and by various processes encourage them to come join us and worship in our way. We support many and varied outreach missions and do lots of good.

Some 'attractional' churches get truly engaged with their communities and deeply, even sacrificially, serve others in those encounters. There remain still the difficult-to-shake-off undertones of 'us' 'going' 'out' 'to' 'them'.

Other Christian communities attempt to submerge themselves in the culture they find themselves in.

That has led to, for example, churches developing in the rave scene in the UK, the felt need for authentic community and deep spirituality amongst some members of mega churches, or even coffee-flavoured west coast spirituality.

Then, as Bob Hopkins, a veteran church planter in the UK, puts it, 'as the Gospel begins to bear fruit in people's lives there is no invitation to come to church as we have been doing it. On the contrary the whole assumption is that the responses to the Gospel in the culture and context will be allowed to give rise to a new emerging faith community that is fully indigenous to that community."

In the UK, the term Fresh Expressions has developed to describe this movement. Not all Fresh Expressions are 'emerging churches' as some are frankly rather desperate attempts by aging hippy vicars to spice up services and, more seriously, efforts to prop up a crumbling edifice (either the local building or the whole CofE).

In a helpful outline (which can be downloaded as a PowerPoint) Steven Croft points to the different starting point of emerging church communities. Rather than beginning with gathered worship and then going out, these communities begin with loving service meeting the needs of those around them. Within this context of service, community is formed. In this community there is evangelism and disciple-making, and through all of this worship evolves.

Underlying and surrounding all this is a constant attention to prayer and discerning God's call. Within such communities, every member feels engaged and all are changed and expect to be so. Also remember that this does not entail a 'bait and switch' to get people 'back into church'.

So what do these communities look like 

Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger in Emerging Churches (2005) engaged with emerging churches around the world. They identify nine characteristics which they seemed to share:

1. Identifying with Jesus (and his way of life through incarnational living)

2. Transforming secular space (overcoming the secular/sacred split)

3. Living as community (not merely as strangers in proximity at a church service)

4. Welcoming the stranger (radical and genuine hospitality that is inclusive)

5. Serving with generosity (not merely serving the institution called "church," but people)

6. Participating as producers (not as widgets in the church program)

7. Creating as created beings (releasing God's creativity inherent in each one)

8. Leading as a body (beyond control and the CEO model of leadership)

9. Merging ancient and contemporary spiritualities (recognizing and celebrating the contribution of 2000 years of Christianity).

They see emerging churches as 'communities that practice the way of Jesus with postmodern cultures'. Vitally, they know themselves to be residents in the new culture rather than aliens.

That is, in the terms I used earlier, they desire to engage in God's mission within culture not to minister to it.

Again, one of the crucial aspects of emerging churches is that they have no predetermined notions of what they will become as they mature since they expect that they will also be shaped as a part of the culture as transformation occurs.

An additional facet of some emerging churches especially within Anglicanism is an exploration of 'New Monasticism" - the creation of intentional communities following ordered rhythms of life and prayer. Examples of these communities are Moot in London and Church of the Apostles in Seattle; and in the wider church the 24/7 Prayer movement and, to some extent, the local Imago Dei network.

Gladly (though not unthinkingly) immersed in culture, engaged in genuinely humble service, finding inspiration in deep Trinitarian theology, and rediscovering the riches of the whole Christian traditions of spirituality, new forms of Christian community are emerging in the most amazing ways.

 I have placed a reference list on our website at http://www.saintmartins.ca/7.html where you can click through to many of the people and communities mentioned.

Another great place to join this conversation is at http://www.emergingchurch.info and I would love to carry on this exploration as well.

A Church Depot workshop, "Table Talk: Re-emerging expressions of?community in worship" will be held at St. Mark's, Kitsilano, 1805 Larch St., Vancouver, 9:30 am to 3 pm on Saturday, October 18. To register call 604 684-6306 ext. 212.