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June 21, 2005



So if someone (me) is hoping to realise/creat/find a situation in the US that goes against the flow, what do they need to look for?

Daniel Greeson

In my own tribe, the church of Christ, I think its going to be very interesting to see what happens. In the past they not been known to accept changes...

thanks for the post.


+ Alan

Always an interesting subject Ryan. And one in which I find myself on the edge in this conversation. A statement like "there are hopeful signs of change in the US..." is very interesting to me. Why "hopeful"? Do you mean hopeful that the denoms will change or hopeful that we are seeing "emerging churches" working in their ranks? If the latter, why? Why is that hopeful?

For me, the reason it doesn't work so well is that there are some very deep-seeded philosophical and ecclesiological differences at work here - trying to work under one proverbial roof that is. Unless we're talking about just an "alternative service" I doubt it will ever work. Another service which still operates basically within the same theological framework as the original is not real change to me. It's window dressing. We have a lot of that going on. That may be part of what's "emerging" but it's not what needs to in my opinion.

I find no real "hope" in so called emerging churches trying so hard to work within denominational structures. What I think when I see that is why? Why do you want to do that? What is your motivation? I know this may sound like generalization, but from what I've seen, it's because of money and fear. And if it is money (let's call it resources - it sounds nicer) then I have to wonder if your idea of what a church is and how it functions has really changed at all. I know that's not popular with some, but it's there - unavoidable.

Cursoraly, anthropologically speaking, I can see a great connection between the state/church marriage that has existed in the UK for centuries, which is still there, embedded in the culture, and the rarity of those who want to pull out of that system. On the other hand, here, there is a rooted culture of suspicion and, if you will, rebellion, which causes us to be more likely to move in a new direction. That's just cultural stuff.

Basically, whether the cultural stuff is good or bad - neither necessarily - I look more at theology of church, and if your theology of church has sufficiently shifted, and you are convinced that the shift is right, good and healthy, then you will not be able to stay. You will have to go in order to keep your integrity and not cause a divisive ruckus where you have been.

Sorry to write such a long comment. This is one of those things we don't think through enough. Too much emotion and vested interest involved that screws our objectivity up. Peace to you.

don juan de bubba

Interesting thoughts.

Here is my question, a little biased by my own background I have to admit.

Why do you think that the emergent churches that you mentioned have more success within a hierarchical church structure (Anglican, Lutheran), than among a more free-church structure (say Baptist, Mennonite, Bible church).


Free churches are based around one strong, charismatic leader and his call; his word goes. Not much space for power-sharing, much less message-changing. Yes, I know this is a rank generalization.

The discussion about breaking free of the denomination is fine for those in vestments and bearing their M. Div's--but what of those of us in the seats? We are passionate for change, but as nurses, engineers, parents, electricians, we don't have the same ability/ authority to break new ground as our pastoral friends...



In response to one of your questions

“I find no real "hope" in so called emerging churches trying so hard to work within denominational structures. What I think when I see that is why? Why do you want to do that?”

One reason for possibly staying in a denomination is the personal relationships. I don't think everyone is called to make compromises for that reason; some should do something radical and apostolic (which it sounds like your doing, keep up the good work : ) ), but I think others are called to effect change in the old contexts.

It’s true that you don’t put new wind in old wine skins, yet Yahweh didn’t give up on the people of Israel, the point being there is more than one paradigm to work from.

If I go back to a rural midwest setting, my goal won’t be to be “emergent” but instead “missional”. Sometimes I am annoyed with the Church, sometimes I hate the people in the church, (which is sin on my part), but regardless, I love the church, (as I’m sure you do to) and want to serve the people of God, no matter how self-centered (like me) they may become. Keep doing the apostolic, and missional thing that your doing. Yet at the same time, don’t allow your bad experience’s, which I’m sure are valid and true, to color your perspective on why some Christians would want to work in denominational structures. A plurality of perspectives and approaches is a good thing.


Very interesting. Thanks.


Ryan, interesting thoughts.

Here in Canada we resonate more with the UK than with the US in terms of the emerging church. And I think one of the reasons is because we, like the UK, are living in a more post-modern/post-Christian/post-??? culture than that of the States.

Alan raises some good points about theolgy of church. But I need to that through more.

Good stuff.


Thanks for this analysis. However what you are talking about as UK is really England. I don't really know how things stand in Wales or Ireland, but in Scotland things are quite different from England in terms of what's happening re church and culture generally. We don't have a homogeneous UK culture, although there is an elusive sense of Britishness.


great discussion. back in the late 90s I was young adults minister at an australian baptist church and we took the evening service in a very creative direction. it was de-centred, missional and culturally engaging. myself and the youth minister were accountable to the senior, but our leadership structures were separate from the main church and we ran the groups and worship with a lay leadership drawn from the evenging congregation. the basic model was a plant within a church and grew quickly through a mix of attraction, and conversion.

however, when the senior left, the interim we had for 8 months, a very senior denominational figure, did not like the idea of "two churches" within one church. he was agahst that as acting senior he could not easily control this "other church." he found it "disorienting."

the anglicans in parts of england have a decent track record of planting churches within churches, not just in an emerging sense, but before that in terms of evangelical and charismatic plants. this was done in a number of locals around london in the wake of Holy Trinity Brompton's growth.

i floated this sort of thinking with the leadership of a central london baptist church through 99-00. the issue was that whilst it seemed great as "outreach" at some point there was an expectation new people would join "the main fold." the outgoing senior minister and some deacons could see that in 5-10 years the "new fold," would become the whole flock (or a larger part of it), but for others that was hard to imagine. in the end the new senior simply didn't buy the idea of anything other than church as it had been done "for centuries."

John Sloas

The "emergent" Sunday night service I was doing at University Presbyterian Church Fresno just folded. The church within a church thing didn't work for us. Most of the folks coming were involved in morning churches. A few of us saw "Resonance" as our church, but not enough to make it fly. We suffered from an identity crisis. Were we a church or a program of a church? How together or apart were we? Before churches go and start doing seperate services (especially services that are not on Sunday morning) they should have those questions nailed down.

I think many denom churches with try "emergent services" to reach postmoderns and be "relevant"--but they will be on to the next thing that appears to work in few years.

We may give it another go here is Fresno, but as a seperate community in the downtown area. Blessings.

Graham Doel

It is interesting that one Anglican college in England (St. John's Nottingham) has explicitly embraced engagement with emerging structures in its curriculum and in its marketing.

St. John's has a history of being innovative. It embraced Charismatic renewal in the 60's under Michael Green. It appointed an unordained female principle in the late 90's (Christina Baxter).

ryan bolger

David, if you are very much a bridge-builder, full of patience, with a good relationship with a senior pastor, you may be able to advocate for gradual change. In addition, much of what typifies an emerging church can happen with a transformation of the small group, and leave the sacred cow of Sunday unchanged.

However, if you feel called to create an emerging expression of church and do not necessarily feel called to serve as a change agent within your church, you may need to begin something outside the church's reach.

Ryan Bolger

Don Juan,
I think it is a England, not a hierarchical thing, as Fernando suggested (thanks Brodie for the clarification). They have a history of equal congregations within an existing church in England, both for hierarchical and "free" expressions.
In the US, we don't have equal congregations coming together as "church".
For example, a church might "rent out" the church building to other churches, but these 'congregations' never get together as "church"). This is true for hierarchical and "free" expressions.

As Fernando writes, however, mulitiple congregations it is still not the norm in England -- it is difficult for churches in both the UK and US to see alternative expressions as real church and not just a holding tank until the young people grow up a little bit, stop whining, get married, and join 'real church'.


I think that 20yrs ago in England the mindset was largely similar to what you report of the present US scene. The change was the realisation that we didn't have to work towards conformity, that not only was diversity alright, we already had it; we just hadn't thought about it that way before.

Graham Doel

I've been thinking some more about this. I'm not to sure that you are right to say that it is mainly Anglican or C of E phenomenom in the UK. I am within the Baptist bunch and I have noticed several things recently:

1. David Coffee (Secretary to the Baptist Union of Great Britain) has said on a couple of occasions recently that the denomenation as a whole is sponsoring many emerging projects.
2. Revive in the North of England is part funded by the BU.
3. Steve Chalke of Oasis stands within the emerging bunch, he is a Baptist minister (also got something to to with the URC).
4. St. Thomas Philidelphia in Sheffield is a mix of mega and emerging and it is a Baptist and Anglican partnership led by a Baptist minister.

I don't think Baptists blog as much as the Anglicans so they probably don't get noticed!

ryan bolger

Andii, hopefully we can learn from you Brits --

Remember the curry Eddie Gibbs and I had with you in Bradford in Spring 2001 along with Julian, Sue, Adrian and a few others?

ryan bolger

Graham, I agree, the movement is more across the board now. However, I see Alt Worship as the earliest expression of 'emerging' in the UK which was most frequently related to Anglican churches.


interesting use of the word free churches, here it simply means not Lutheran (state) - and nothing about the type of structure.

the methodist church is part of UMC for example, and under a bishop etc. and yet considered free :)

I am fascinated by the whole concept of change within denominations ... change for the sake of it is not good, but making church more relevant is worth pursuing I think


We are currently attending Fremont Abbey emergent church in Seattle. We are the old people there but love the openess and freedom. Here's a question for you regarding the formation and sustaining of emergent churches: Now don't get offended by this....Does the generation who are attending emergent churches understand the tithing aspect and necessity of giving in order for a church to survive. I know no one wants to say that ministry is about money, but it is. My husband and I pastored for over 30 years. A local body is limited in what it can do by having the funds to do it. I am asking this honestly. We would love to plant an emergent church in the future but wonder if those who proclaim their woundedness in traditional churches are generous? Please hear my heart and answer.

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  • Hi, welcome to my former blog! My name is Ryan Bolger, and this is where I posted my thoughts on Jesus, culture, new forms of community, among other things. Come visit me at my new blog: http://www.ryanbolger.com. I still teach at Fuller Seminary in Southern California where I'm doing some writing as well. Feel free to bounce around the new or old website -- I hope it might stir your imagination -- feel free to stir mine as well by leaving some comments, preferably at the new site... Peace...


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