The Emerging Church – A Movement Worth Talking About

This post is part 2 of my thoughts on Why The Emerging Church Still Matters. I won’t recap part 1 here, other than to say that despite the fading prominence of the emerging church in conference topics, blog posts, and common church conversations, I still think it’s worth talking about.

Growing up in USAmerican evangelicalism, one of the running jokes in churches was that ‘the church’ was also 10-20 years behind cultural trends. Music, fashion, politics, and other topics would pop up in church circles well after they’d gone stale everywhere else. I’d like to suggest that the emerging church actually represents not just a “catching up with culture,” but a bit of a reversal of the game.

Without attempting a full history of the movement, let me just suggest some of the hallmarks of the emerging church thus far:

  • It’s a movement made up primarily of no-name people, who at some point became disillusioned with the status-quo. A handful of prominent people may have become identifiable spokespeople, but they were never elected or appointed to this . . . meanwhile the actual work of the movement is done by people you’ve never heard of, and in most cases never will.
  • It’s notoriously hard to define. There is no official membership, no official mission statement, no agreed upon goals and objectives.
  • It is messy. Because there’s no central hierarchy or mission statement, the ideas of the movement often appear disorganized and lack cohesion. Critics don’t like the haphazard nature of it, but participants often celebrate this reality.
  • The ideas/memes core to the movement challenge the accepted understandings of orthodoxy, and have deconstructed and reimagined the way we view things that used to be relatively blindly assumed as true.
  • It’s a movement of creativity, using aesthetics as meaning-making and narrative.
  • The movement has been somewhat noisy and disruptive. Hierarchies and systems of power have been challenged, and people in power positions have become uncomfortable. In a few cases, this discomfort has brought about the beginnings of responsive change, but in many others, the discomfort has brought about a vocal backlash against those causing disruption.
  • The movement has been fueled primarily by younger people.
  • The movement was made possible by technology. The ideas and connections have taken place on the internet. People congregate on web hubs, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • The movement is communal. There are regular local expressions in cities all over the world, but there are also coordinated gathering events, to share in relationship, encouragement, pep talks, and learning parties.
  • Although the public perception of those involved is that they’re on the fringe, and perhaps a bit too radical for broad acceptance, the ideas have begun filtering into the mainstream, and “regular folk” are thinking and talking about things in a way that is just plain different. When the proverbial soccer moms are talking about the issues, the impact is becoming measurable.

I could go on, but that’s a good start. Now, friends, I’d like you to go back and read through those descriptions of the movement . . . except in the introduction, replace “hallmarks of the emerging church” with “hallmarks of the Occupy movement.”

Obviously, there are some significant differences between the emerging church and the Occupy movement, so I’m not trying to make a point-by-point comparison.* I am suggesting, though, that the spirit of protest, the populist uprisings, and the calls for broad-based participation in a new version of reality are strikingly common. And for the purposes of my point: the emerging church got here first.

Depending on how you date the start of the movement, the emerging church has occupying Christianity for at least 15-20 years. By comparison, the Occupy movement is a youngster. Sure, it has grown faster and bigger than the emerging church, but I would add another argument here, and say that the fact that interfaith groups have been an important component of the Occupy movement is largely due to the emerging church movement having developed peoples’ consciousness of issues of power and social injustice.

Ultimately it doesn’t actually matter much who got here first. What I am saying here, though, is that the emerging church, with its major emphasis on missiology toward the Western world, has helped followers of Jesus become more future-oriented. The emerging church is a forward-leaning effort, aimed at anticipating cultural change, rather than just trying to keep up with it. And whether the emerging church brand has outlived it’s hipster status or not, this reality has made the Church better. And it will continue to do so.

So what do you think? Am I way off base in making this comparison? This is just an idea I’ve been kicking around for the past couple months.** I’d love to hear other opinions and critiques.



*I’m also not saying that the emerging church and the Occupy movement don’t have some very unfortunate similarities. Both can be legitimately criticized for being too white, too male, and too intellectually elitist. The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee did a brilliant story poking at Occupy Wall Street’s inability to practice what it preaches, and the same could easily be said of the emerging church.

**I promise, I’m not trying to capitalize on Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” thing.

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  1. I have heard this comparison being made in a few circles actually. I am not sure yet if I agree. I think we have to wait for the dust to settle first and then reflect,

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