The dusty ghost town of Emerging Churchdom

Last night I took a virtual tour of all the old storefronts in the emerging village. : closed down. : closed down. : No mention of church
EmergingChurch.Info : A few scragglers : Remodeled : Signs on the window saying the Emerging Church is dead : They just unlocked the doors after 12 months of dormancy

For all its faults I really did enjoy the conversation.  I miss battling fundamentalists on Phil and Dan’s signposts blog.  I miss the MSN messenger chats.  I miss the feeling of being part of something new that was trying to honestly address deep problems in the church. 

While the emerging church is largely dead, I don’t think the church has solved the problems the EC tried to address.  Some elements of the church may have done of good job of shooting down some of the answers the EC purposed, but I don’t think they did any better job of coming up with better answers.

The question of relevance was approached in the wrong way.  The EC tried to become relevant by becoming current without ensuring they were sourced in the timeless.  It is the same mistake the seeker church made. 

I think the fear of over-institutionalization kept people from building relevant and necessary structures to maintain some level of durability and fruitfulness.  Don’t get me wrong on this, I’m a house church guy, I like church as simple as possible but organization is required for some things.  When honest criticism began there was no way to make course corrections.  How does one correct a conversation?  A movement can shift but a conversation just is.

I think the general impulse that helped form the emerging church still exists.  The house church movement doesn’t seem to have lost steam.  Those that chose timeless answers (e.g. community and genuine fellowship) over timely answers (e.g. coffee, candles and cool) have much more life in their churches.  Especially those groups that are led by people of substance with genuine love and a willingness to sacrifice.  I’d like to think the missional movement still has life.  Those of us that have attempted to be missional have learned that there are large elements of risk and sacrifice involved.  It is much easier to talk missional than to actually be missional.  I’m not thinking of anybody other than myself as I write about this.

The questions that face the church will only become more difficult as society transitions through peak-oil, climate change and an overhaul to our economic system.  The over-commercialized and Americanized version of Evangelicalism is doomed.  The mega-churches are doomed.  Who is going to commute 20 miles to church at $5 / gallon especially when their disposable income has been dramatically cut?  I’d like to think more difficult economic times would be able to create some disillusionment in the prosperity gospel, but if such theology can take over large swaths of Africa, I think it might become an attractive escape for those who don’t have a hope of living the famed “best life now.”  There is a dramatic need for discernment and correction in the church.

I think there will be a 2nd wave of (attempted) transformation in the church.  Next time it won’t be about keeping the twenty something’s around and looking cool, it will be about survival.  It will be about rediscovering the timeless strength of faith in Christ and fellowship in a world full of crumbling idols. Idols and false gods that the church as accepted as much as the world.

In the timeless words of James T. Kirk “Buckle up.”

  1. #1 by Mike Morrell on January 24, 2011 - 9:18 am

    Hi Leighton, I’m just now seeing this. It’s a fascinating discussion, as usual; I’m not sure, though, that it’s a matter of ‘timeless’ vs. ‘timely.’ For instance, I like house churching (did it almost exclusively for 10 yrs), but the more I delved into NT scholarship the more I realized that we were, indeed, approximating certain aspects of early church behaviors, but much of what we did was also timely, that is, it reflected a uniquely North American or Western informality…and that’s okay. To say that emerging church folk should’ve just stuck to ‘timelessness’ is to ignore the impetus of postmodernity that impelled many of us to question whether the ‘timeless’ exists at all. Everything is embedded, everything is enculturated, everything is situational. This doesn’t mean there is no truth; but that Truth is a person rather than an abstract, static set of ideas. And if Truth is a Person, and this Person is endlessly relational, then it makes sense that – strictly speaking – truth is subjective and timely.

    As far as websites go – it’s true that some of these are down, but many others are up – too many for me to list here, but wait ’till our redesign launches. : ) As far as Jordon goes, I think he has very good reasons for not blogging about Christianity anymore….

  2. #2 by LT on January 24, 2011 - 10:27 am

    Hi Mike

    It is good to connect with you. I did not intend to say that the EC should have just stuck to ‘timelessness’, I just said we made a mistake when we tried to be current without being sourced in timelessness. It isn’t a knock on relevance, just that being cool without having substance wasn’t going to cut it.

    On one level I don’t disagree with your comments about truth, but I like to frame as an issue of resolution…as in the resolution of a digital picture. Recognizing the bias of the perceiver there will always be an inherent fuzziness to what we perceive. The fuzzier things are the more we interpret them differently. That doesn’t mean we can’t come to some level of pragmatic certainty. In my fuzzy photo I may not be able tell the make and model of the car I’m looking at, but I can be confident with a high degree of certainty that I am looking at a car.

    In some arenas we have given up on confidence in the breadth and scope of some principles and thrown everything in the questionable pile when we really didn’t have to. For some it as become a convenient escape clause.

  3. #3 by Mike Clawson on January 24, 2011 - 10:32 am

    I’d suggest that emerging church conversation hasn’t really died so much as those who’ve been a part of it have buckled down to actually putting it into practice, sans all the hype of the evangelical marketing machine. I.e. almost all of the emerging folks I know are deeply involved in creating or joining ministries, churches, missional projects, etc. and aren’t interested in simply rehashing old debates with all the funda-gelical critics who have long since written us off and kicked us out anyway.

  4. #4 by The Charismanglican on January 24, 2011 - 10:42 am

    Is there any evidence that the megachurch is doomed? Or is that just a man desperately hanging on to his prejudices? I go to a tiny little parish, so you know where I’m at, but all my sources tell me that consolidation is as prevalent among congregations as it is in radio and television. And that megachurches still have the highest percentage of givers and servers. Or do they just own the polling companies, too? 🙂

    I’m of the mind that “emerging church” was just another way of saying “Christians dealing with postmodernism”…which does sound kind of 2002. I think the reports of the emerging church’s death, however, are somewhat misguided because I think most “emergents” only went so far in really finding out what was going on in late modernism. Ironically, “Institutional Church” leaders like Pope Benedict or Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams blow Spencer Burke, Leonard Sweet, Frank Viola, et. al. out of the freaking water when it comes to a decent critique of modernism. And what if we take into consideration the minds within the Radical Orthodoxy movement (including James K.A. Smith, a Calvinist. Which should really be capitalized and underlined and explanation pointed: _A CALVINIST!_)? And what if we take into consideration postliberal practitioners like Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and the Ekklesia Project?

    Yeah, it seems to me that you have to split the “emerging church” into at least two streams: one stream took philosophical postmodernism seriously enough to deconstruct late modernism (including philosophical postmodernism), and one stream was just what the church looks like floating in the postmodern world. There are gradations of course, and the two streams meet in various places (an emerging stalwart, Brian McLaren seems to have feet in both streams, or at least keep being influenced by both). To my eye, most of the emerging church (the Ooze, simple church, etc.) are really just a different side of the postmodern coin. The other side is not the historic, institutional, credal churches (Roman Catholic, Orthodox) but the big ole evangelical fundie churches. The emerging churchers who didn’t deconstruct enough failed to realize that the mega church IS as postmodern as Solomon’s Porch, or that Simple Church is as modern as a Billy Graham Crusade.

    But for those who took deconstruction seriously, the emerging church isn’t dead at all. Once your mind expands it can never return to it’s former size and-all-that. Many became atheists, many became catholics, but few of this stream are still collecting tattoos, piercings, and predictions of the fall of the institutional church.

  5. #5 by Leighton on January 24, 2011 - 4:12 pm

    First off, I think your name is pretty cool. It could mean you are a charismatic anglican, or it it could be that grace is mangling anglicanism?

    About megachurches…While I may indeed be biased 🙂 my predictions for megachurches are largely based on something very concrete.

    I believe that over the next 10 years we will be grappling with oil depletion and some serious spikes in the price of oil. This will have a deep economic impact. It will become a serious challenge for certain types of organizations and on suburbia in general. I believe that our communities and economies will re-localize. People won’t drive across town to go to a megachurch because they can’t afford to. They might just wander in to their local Anglican or RC parish church.

    I recognize that some people think I’m some kind of conspiracy theorist when I talk about Peak Oil, but it is very much an acknowledged reality. The only debate is about when it will happen, not if it will.

    The “emerging church” I referred to was largely my personal knowledge and experience of it. At one time my blog was one of the lesser voices in the emerging church blogosphere. I was good friends with Jordon Cooper and a handful of the Australian Forge folks. I was one of the behind the scenes people with Resonate. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to label it as one stream or another, but I’m honest enough to admit much of what we were in to lacked durability.

    I’m not sure I’m convinced that if I travel down the rabbit hole of deconstruction that I might find myself in the warm snuggly arms of the higher church traditions (RC/Orthodox/Anglican). I am a house church guy, and I couldn’t tell you if we are more modern or postmodern. I keep doing what I’m doing because I never seen as much fruit in ministry as I see now. My hope is that I remain faithful.

    I don’t know what the sociological/societal phenomenon that we call post-modernism will look like if we see dramatic shifts in the realm of energy, the environment and the economy. This might be part of my desire to care less about cultural relevance and more about timeless substance.

  6. #6 by Leighton on January 24, 2011 - 4:13 pm

    What you describe certainly fits my personal experience. Perhaps we should start talking about the emerged church. 🙂

  7. #7 by Jordon on February 1, 2011 - 5:56 pm

    I will only speak personally but as the language of the emerging church was taken over by marketers and twisted by fundementalists, I stopped using it and the language of evangelicalism because it did not make sense to those outside of the sub culture.

    It’s also a reflection of what I am reading and working on right now which are primarily poverty and justice issues with other NGOs and government departments that are not Christian.

    What I believe hasn’t changed, how I communicate it has.

    The other thing is that many of us have ignored our blogs and websites in favor of Twitter. I post 30 times a day to Twitter. Maybe 2 times a week some weeks to the blog.

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