Questions naturally arise about Emerging Churches and their relation to denominations and/or existing churches. After explaining the dynamics of a shift to a Jesus-centered way of life, an embodied community living as Christ-followers 24-7 within postmodern cultures, hands go up in my classes...
"How does this work within existing churches?"
The answer is good and not-so-good, at least in my experience in the UK and US...
In the UK, the majority of Emerging Churches exist in relation to the
Anglican Church, often as separate congregations within the larger
church structure. The Anglicans in the UK (such as Grace in London or Tribal Generation
in Sheffield) have a history of separate congregations under the same
roof, with no particular congregation having ultimate authority over
another. Even 'free church' expressions have a history of separate
congregations within a given church (such as Revelation
in Chichester). Although each congregation represents a distinctive
subculture, the larger gathering is where these different subcultures
comes together. Some communities do this much more frequently than
Not So Good
In the US, there are very few expressions of Emerging Churches that exist within long-standing congregations. As Dan Kimball
told me, alternative congregations only work if they don't work,
meaning, if not many people join the alternative community. However, as
soon as the numbers begin competing with the larger service, alarm
bells go off. The following might ensue: the senior pastor seeks to
bring the congregations together by preaching at all services (thereby
killing/maiming the alternative expression) or the pastor systematizes
the multiple congregations in one way or another, or the church splits,
or the alternative service gets shut downsome way, or the alternative
community is sent out as a separate congregation. For this reason, most
emerging churches in the US are standalone church plants...
Why the difference between the two church cultures? Indeed, there are hopeful signs of change in the US (Karen Ward in Seattle, Tribal Generation
in Arizona), but bottom-line, the US is not as desperate for numbers as
the UK church is, and so the US is less willing to engage in dramatic
change. In addition, the US church does not have a very good history of
multi-cultural churches or congregations within churches. Moreover, the
US has the strong senior pastor role which leads to a homogenization of
Although the numbers are very low, the future is bright for the
Anglican church as expressed in current church leadership (e.g Rowan
Williams). I do believe that the American church will change at some
point down the road, but we are years away from any sort of embrace of
Emerging Church practices in existing US congregations.