Is the Emerging Church Dead?

I don’t think so.

But as one such church I love “closed”  and others have closed or teeter on the brink of closing, I wonder what we are doing wrong.  Or are emerging congregations simply more provisional than other churches?

Characteristics of these congregations seem to be:

  • Location in urban/suburban neighborhoods with extraordinary transience (i.e. the neighborhoods people move into temporarily because they are fresh out of college or just starting out professionally)
  • Predominantly comprised of people who like multiple options for everything – including spiritual nourishment (i.e. they have more than one spiritual community)
  • Predominantly comprised of overtly broken people (i.e. addicts, church refugees, etc.) who readily share their brokenness, although they are broken in different ways
  • Predominantly comprised of young professionals, non-profit workers, artists, and dreamers (although my former church also included people with higher education degrees in medicine, engineering, national security, etc.)

Many Emerging Churches struggle financially.  They cannot afford to call a FT pastor in the traditional sense:  someone with a seminary degree, a FT base salary with housing allowance, health insurance, and retirement benefits – although that’s the model most churches have used.  And traditional sponsoring churches do not always consider Emerging Communities to be “real church” anyway.

The kinds of churches that will be planted in future years will be more varied than we’ve ever seen before.  Many will have bi-vocational pastors, as we’ve predicted.  But there will also be missional communities that need and will pay for FT spiritual leaders.  And still, those communities will be very different from traditional churches.

I thank God today for Holy Grounds, Neighbors Abbey, The Portico in Charlotte, and all the others communities that have tried to be something new.  We are still learning how to do this.

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8 responses to “Is the Emerging Church Dead?

  1. I am not super conversant/familiar with emergent churches. However, I’ll give a few stabs in the dark. I’m fine with being told I’m way off base:
    1) There doesn’t seem to be a strong emphasis on commitment to the community. I’m trying to put my finger on how to articulate that it seems to be very easy to fall in and out. (I understand the problems with being commitment-rigid.)

    2) The communities don’t seem to be diverse enough. If most of them are primarily composed of young adults who are in transient phases of life, then it is hard to maintain stability. I think that one of the beautiful things about churches is that there can be this spectrum of people who divinely crash into one another. But, I guess the “style” of the churches beget a particular kind of crowd? (Add to that layers of majority/minority cultural norms)

    3) Somewhat related to #2, I wonder if there are folks who just feel like they don’t fit in? (i.e., “I’m not artsy/edgy/young/beautiful/non-conformist enough to go there.”)

    • Emily – you’re on the mark. Holy Grounds included some “older” folks, but it was mostly 20 and 30-somethings who were looking for a safe spiritual community – safe especially in the ability to ask questions/question what they’d always been taught about God.

  2. As I read this I stared to wonder if maybe emerging churches are allowing something to happen that traditional churches fight tooth and nail against, which is allowing space for fluidity. I mean that in the sense that the leaders perceive a need and fill it for however long it needs to be filled and then allow for the “death” of the “church” when the need is no longer there. To me, it doesn’t seem a bad thing to allow new, different communities to pop up and serve the need that God has for them at the time and then allow God to change things and “close the doors” so to speak.

    Just thinking out loud…and I mean no disrespect to traditional churches, which is what I attend at the moment!

    • I agree. I also love traditional churches but we are stuck in practices/customs that don’t work for many people. Fluidity is important, but authenticity and a clear purpose is even more important.

  3. I am sad too. But it sounds like you are measuring the success of emergent churches by traditional standards.

    Yes, we are still learning how to do this. I think by their very nature emergent churches are small and their smallness makes ppl run out of steam. The smallness is both the greatness and the downfall. So, perhaps emergent churches are also meant to be transient and built up and torn down according to the community’s needs during that season. I feel like before long another HG-type thing will start up again. We will always continue to grapple and will need a forum to do it in.

    So interesting what happens when we don’t have a FT pastor to guide us. It’s great that we live out “a priesthood of all believers.” It puts the onus back on us to live out our faith instead of listen to someone tell us what to do one morning a week, and then go back to our lives. But I do miss the “expertise,” the wisdom of someone who’s been there and actually good at the pastoring thing.

    Also interesting is how other small churches are trying to make it work. Take Common Table. They have a huge internet interaction and there is a lot going online in terms of exchange of ideas and support. I wonder what other small churches are doing?…

    Would love to continue this discussion! Miss you Jan.

    • Miss you too – and when are you visiting Chicago?

      I agree that lots of emergent churches have large, national/international internet reach. It’s so interesting. HG “graduated” people all over the world and – like you said – without a FT pastor, it was hard to replenish the community with new people when others moved on. But think about what God did through HG: disciples launched to Jordan, Thailand, England. Others off to Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, Wisconsin. It was so great, wasn’t it?

      Common Table is such a good community. I remember finding them online as well and – even though I’ve only been to the worship gathering a couple of times on Sundays with CT – I consider it one of my communities as well. We all seem to have multiple communities.

      So . . . come to Memphis in January. (Ask the Mikes.) A family reunion is in the works.

  4. I live in Charlotte and was looking for a church while Portico was here – and I fit the above demographic. I visited a lot of churches during that time and am trying to recall why I never considered even checking out Portico. Hmmm …. These probably aren’t fair but I think that I thought it wasn’t diverse enough (including age) and it seemed like they were trying too hard. I have now been part of a unintentional church revival (God inteded it – it just wasn’t in the Presbytery plans.) So, I know that having folks committed to the church and one another 100% does make a difference (again, don’t know that Portico didn’t have that.) Plus, we did end up with quite a few “drivers” – folks who just make stuff happen. Plus the group that revitalized the church had spent 2 years in a bible study together prior to the church revitalization.

    • Thank you so much for this B. I wonder if one of the main differences is the permission emerging congregations tend to give for people to grapple with theology in a non-judgmental community. We had so many hurt people in Holy Grounds – often hurt by the institutional church. There is a hunger for authenticity too that it sounds like you have found in your community.

      I agree about the exclusivity piece in Emergent/Emerging Church. But most of the emerging congregations I know include at least a few older (over 50, even over 60 year old) members. The majority, though seem to be people in their 20s and 30s though.

      And yes, it takes a lot of discernment: Bible study, prayer, sitting and staring into space to listen to the Holy. Many blessings on your continued ministry.

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