In our Emerging Church class the last two days, we explored various definitions of Emerging Churches. It has been a lively discussion. We gave a bit of our research story, and how our idea of emerging churches constantly changed as our research proceeded during the years 2000-2005. For the US scene, we continued to use our three-part rubric:
1986 -- present: new church plant, single-generation churches (some say Gen-X), often very large
1994 -- present: church-within-a-church, single generation church services (or youth service, young adult service) that are funded by large churches as part of their congregation, often very large
2000 -- present: Emerging Churches -- small, often networked, organic, Jesus-like communities (whose definition will be explored through the rest of the course).
We established this rubric because we found that people discuss these different movements as 'emerging church' but they are entirely different animals. As we gathered research data over a few years, these groupings became more obvious. I like to present Dieter Zander's story as an example of this evolution with his work at New Song in 1986-1993, Axis at Willow Creek 1994-1998, and his ministry beginning in San Francisco in 1999.
So we gave a bit of the story which led to our definition of Emerging Churches. In a sense, we have three sizes to our definition -- small, medium, and large, where we continue to flesh out our ideas a bit.
Emerging Churches are communities who practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures.
Emerging Churches are those who take the life of Jesus as a model way to live (one), who transform the secular realm (two), as they live highly communal lives (three). Because of these three activities, they welcome those who are outside (four), they share generously (five), they participate (six), create (seven), they lead without control (eight), and function together in spiritual activities (nine).
In our book, Emerging Churches, we spend a chapter on each of these patterns, telling lots of stories. Hopefully these narratives will give life to our description of emerging churches...
So, as a class, we spent six hours discussing these ideas -- and no one seemed to sleep through it! We will now begin to expand on these definitions through the rest of the course...