Adventures in Hybridity. Part Two.

A little background on the previous post and a little thinking out loud.

Stmagnuscathedral2For the past ten years, we have been traveling around the world connecting with followers of Jesus who are forming new kinds of faith-based aggregations. Many of these people do not attend church on a Sunday. Many of them used to be “members” of churches but now only go on occasion to stay connected or not at all. Their most significant communal rhythms happen through a number of separate events and occasions in homes, coffee shops, clubs, festivals, etc. And in the past 7 years, the internet has become another of those places where spiritual gifts are shared and the accountability of relationship is maintained despite physical distance.

In 1997, we helped to start an intentional community (urban monastery) in San Francisco. This became the base for our ministry and the various events connected to it. Since we were meeting almost daily for feeding the poor, studying the Bible, worship and prayer, sharing the story of Jesus, many in the community did not feel a need for a Sunday service.

In 1998 we hit the road, traveling full time around USA for the next few years. Then our travels took us to Europe where we have witnessed the same thing. In every city we discovered believers who didn’t ‘go to church’ but we being used by God to impact their cities and were forming spiritual communities not bound by a Sunday event. They didn’t like the word “house church” because they had not really traded one model for another. It was more complex than that. Deeper.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

They were certainly not abiding by the Sunday morning attractional model but neither did they sync with the ethos and pathos of the 1970’s style house church movement. They also did not really connect with the Young Leaders Conferences (pre-Emergent) which they saw as an extension of the old model but still addicted to the style of stage-based, celebrity-driven, Sunday-focused, top-down church model that they had come from. Although it should be said that Young Leaders/Emergent had these people involved from the beginning – including myself – but their voices were not nearly as loud or perhaps the mainstream church was not ready to hear what they had to say.

The term “Simple Church” did not work either. These groupings of believers involve a high degree of complexity. “Emerging church” is a term big enough to include non-church going believers – who are probably a majority – but the culture and language is so different that miscommunication is frequent and the spotlight follows the emerging church models that are closest to the inherited model, rather than those furthest on . . . who do not look like church at all.

In 2001, Alan Jamieson sent me a book that he wrote called “A Churchless Faith” and I blogged it. His research showed that it was often the leaders who left, rather than the spiritually weak and vulnerable. In my annual “Postmodern Church Time Capsule” for 2001, I listed churchless believers as one of the significant trends. The following year, i was invited to a WCC conference in Germany called “Believing Without Belonging”. I couldn’t attend but suggested Alan go in my place.

Since then, there have been quite a few books and documents showing this trend. It is hotly contested and argued. But the fact for many western, post-christian countries is that about half or more than half of the believers DO NOT attend a church service on Sunday. As these people find new ways to connect to each other and share spiritual gifts, a new form of complex church is arising that is more complex than “emerging church” [as presented to us by MSM] We cannot therefore talk in binaries. We need to understand the new complexity that

I am suggesting that the new hybrid of church for millions of Jesus followers is a complex aggregation of many occasions and meetings and meals and projects and happenings. It is a modular fashion of living out church in community but it is not a pure singular model. It does not resemble the inherited model but neither does it resemble what most people think of when they say “emerging church”. It is a hybrid of both that can only be viewed correctly with this in mind.

More later.

Related:

My Gripes about House churches

house churches have no sex appeal

Peaceful Turtles

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

24 Comments

  • I like the direction, and linking with the previous post re Bertha I wonder if these sorts of redefintions catch hold how they can have a liberating, and empowering effect on people who have moved from mainstream church life and struggle. Much hunch would be that if this kind of redefinition catches hold that it would in turn then release and fuel more people to mission in their community, with freedom and vitality of being connected to something bigger (in terms of defintion/mindset not organisation)

  • Andrew,
    Interesting thoughts, Andrew. I know many people are disatisfied with church, but given the biblical data concerning the necessity and inevitability of a believer’s connection with a local church, can we really say that “about half or more than half of the believers DO NOT attend a church service on Sunday”?
    It seems to me that someone who routinely absents themself from the meetings of the body of Christ has no legitimate claim to be a believer. They are not giving the evidences of salvation, it seems to me. The NT knows nothing about obedient believers who are not involved regularly with the local church.
    I do agree that many local churches have failed to minister to people and people are disatisfied with that. I think that is largely, or mostly true of mainline churches who have become so anemic in their own expression of faith that no one wants to be a part of it.
    I agree with the need for new churches, but I think they should actually be new “churches,” not merely coffee shop fellowships, or get togethers at someone’s house. They should be NT assemblies.

  • hey larry,
    hear where you’re coming from, but if a believer has to ‘attend’ something, there’s a chance it’s not what you call ‘an NT assembly.’ for in the NT, church is nothing more than a group of believers-and yes, in some cases , a specific gathering. but what would make a ‘coffee shop fellowship etc any different, mor rather, any less valid than that?
    email your thoughts brother!

  • As a pastor in an institutional church (Presby USA) the core of my being wants to cry out BUT…
    At the same time what you say makes a great deal of of sense; especially when the maintenance of the institution becomes its sole purpose and when the church is so caught up in politics.
    I like the idea of ‘freedom’ from the institution these new expressions bring. I do worry about were people get grounded biblically and theologically and who is responsible to do that (but then I remember most churches in my own denom. have failed in that respect.)

  • I wonder if our response to these thoughts should be “I agree with this way” or “I disagree with this way”, or rather if our response should be a realization that this is simply true for many people. Rather than debating the validity of this “form” of church, perhaps we should just think about where we go from here, since this is what church/christianity/life looks like for many people…? We may think “yes, this is great!” or “no, this is terrible” but either way we must move forward with this reality.
    I’m just thinking…

  • I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues lately. I have to echo the sentiments of an earlier commenter who asked if this is something for the common man. There are many of us who just plain don’t have the time or energy to read books and “stages of faith” and barely make it onto one another’s blogs. Intelligent folks who are able to look beyond the status quo but who leave the researching up to those better suited.
    Larry, I understand what you’re saying about forsaking fellowship with the saints. I just have to ask if you consider this fellowship to be fog-machine, technicolor lights, top-of-the-line sound system that blasts out simple love songs which COULD be about Jesus but might be about the latest boy/girlfriend, followed by a feel-good sermon with two supporting Bible verses.
    I doubt it. The NT church knew one another in business, as neighbors, as community. They were able to daily spur one another on in the race to heaven – they didn’t save up all that fellowship for one special day per week.

  • As unix networking geek, church as a distributed, object oriented, networked, multi threaded, perhaps grid organism, makes perfectly good sense. The next question is: how to facilitate connections and connectivity?
    In the late 1980s and early 90s networking PCs was not a done deal. Although servers (resources) were already long connected, few people could imagine the benefits of sharing a networked printer, file storage or even email. Until there was a critical mass of nodes on the network, growth was difficult. Yet I’m convinced that the connectivity we enjoy today over the Internet is as much a product of demand as it is of available technology. That is, civilization wanted distributed connectivity and so used available technology to build what was needed, and that drove more technological development.
    Distributed church will struggle through a similar uphill run.
    I’m going to begin looking at connecting folks in the Dallas/Fort Worth Texas area. There are many support networks already. Understanding them, bringing them around to thinking of themselves as church, and then connecting with individuals is one approach that comes to mind.
    Any ideas?

  • Reality is reality and reality bites sometimes! I am feeling more and more that i am sick of church and don’t fit anywhere. i resonate deeply with what these people are experiencing outside thye Sunday service.
    Larry, i do not believe the NT states that salvation requires one to attend a church. It requires faith in Jesus.

  • I don’t associate church with all the techno show show, and the like. The NT was simple, not a show.
    I also think the NT church was much closer in terms of personal fellowship than the church today is. I don’t we should save it all up for one day a week.
    Nor do I think that church attendance is a requirement to be saved. But church attendance is something saved people do, just like breathing is something live people do.
    I think the characteristics of the NT church are what should be focused on. What does the NT say a church is. I will throw out a few things in no particular order and perhaps we can discuss it.
    1. A church is a group of baptized believers.
    2. A church is organized with elders/overseers/pastors and deacons.
    3. A church observes the ordinances of baptism and communion.
    4. A church meets at regular and stated times.
    5. A church is has the Bible as the sum total of its preaching and teaching.
    I could list some others, but I will stop there for now. I don’t think getting together at a coffee shop to talk and pray is a church. A church may do that, or may not. But I don’t think that qualifies.

  • I’d say church is an assembly. “Where two or more are gathered. . .” Do we really need office titles? Is structure necessary? Is Sola Scriptura necessary? The churches of the NT had other writings that didn’t make it into the canon.
    Can’t we decide for ourselves, rather than “appointing” some old white men to make decisions behind closed doors?

  • Hybridity?

    While leafing through the blogosphere this evening I found this on TSK:
    But the fact for many western, post-christian countries is that about half or more than half of the believers DO NOT attend a church service on Sunday. As these people find new way…

  • As far as I’m concerned, the NT has the authority do define what church is and we do NOT have the authority to redefine it.
    But that is not meant to imply that understanding the NT model has been achieved, or is easy. Nor should it be taken, necessarily, that there is a single exacting recipe.
    I guess the question for the evangelical is (or should be) “What do we understand to be the Bible’s teaching about God’s will for the church”.
    For the non-evangelical, I suppose you can remove the words “the Bible’s teaching about”.
    And, for the truly liberal, also take out “God’s will for”.

  • Rob, no one is questioning the authority of the Scriptures here.
    the question is more “how” shall we assemble? and is it really a singular weekly meeting that defines our church experience
    or
    is it a set of modular, smaller experiences instead or even including the big one.

  • Larry,
    The people in the NT did not have the NT yet but only the OT.
    Believers in Acts did not meet at stated times, but in homes.
    If i have to “go” to church then i want nothing to do with God. if i am to “be” the church, and wherever 2 or more are gathered, i don’t think God gives a rats ass where i go as long as i am pursuing Him, and throgh His grace watching that i treat people and all the rest of creation with love and care and respect.
    I am sorry Larry, but you don’t, as a fallible human being, have the ability to fully interpret the Bible. God is clear on some things, on others He allows us latitude with a free will choice, and then there is His mystery. Sounds like you are not comfortable with ambiguity and various interpretations of the Bible. Se la vie.

  • It would be easy to post a polarising post – either for or against – but that isn’t my intent here. I do want to ask a few questions though.
    What steps should be taken in order to avoid unnecessary homogenity in churches like this ? Obviously different areas will contain different proportions of different types of people – but if it’s low key and difficult to find how do the members stop it becoming a circle of samey people of the same age?
    On that note, I’m not sure tyranny is only ever a result of passivity.
    If we believe that fluidity and flexibility is a virtue – with most members retaining networks of people in other churches; mainstream and non-mainstream – how do plug new christians into systems like this?
    FWIW, I’m a vicar’s kid, who started off in a mainstream church, had a period outside mainstream churches in which my main fellowship was with less formal – though not necessarily less structured – churches, and am now back in a mainstream church in which home groups have a major role. I was also doing alternate worship about a decade ago. So I don’t really have a problem with different types of church – but in my experience church problems are human problems. Ideas are useful, but Grand Ideas less so.

  • great question – and related is this:
    in a new hybridity, or in the third way of doing church that emerges from the two cultures, how can we avoid the heavy handed domination from the inherited model towards the new and emerging structure?
    partnership is difficult when the inherited model holds all the cards

  • IMHO, it’s worth asking what methods the inherited model (soi-disant) has available to disrupt partnership.
    Denunciations from the pulpit are something faced by every other new church movement. Suspicion works well given the parlous state of the evangelical mind. There’s a whole other struggle regarding educating christians in general which may or may not play a part here.
    I think the emergent way will be an easy target too – because its various form bears a superficial resemblance to those small exclusivist groups of theological wingnuts which form at the fringes of the church – anyone who has spent any time in a big city, especially around universities, will know what I mean.
    A couple of suggestions; perhaps clear, biblical, yet non exclusive statements of belief will play an important role here. Secondly, if turnabout is fair play, it’s worth asking how hybridity will work ‘in the other direction’.

  • As a student entering my final year of Bible College, I have been seeking God’s calling as to how I am to approach Church. I grew up in the established church. So it is that it seems peculiar to feel drawn away from it and toward a pattern more fit with my needs and personality.
    In myself and in countless others, I have discovered a dissatisfaction and disenchantment with the workings of the church. (I should say the American church since I do reside in the US.) There is a legitimate need being expressed by an ever-growing group of believers for a method of “being” Christian instead of merely “doing” Christianity, one that will bring with it a feeling of true fulfillment.
    Can we deny that need? Would that not be tantamount to a denial of Christ himself? “I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink”? Our thoughts cannot become “Is the need Biblical?” The need exists. Now, how will we fulfill that need, since the established church, for whatever reason, either will not or can not?
    As has been expressed here previously, this is not a matter of being different per se, more of joining the old and the new in the hope that a few might find belonging. The apostle Paul became all things to all men so that he could save some. Can we do less?

  • Thanks for making me feel I am not so alone…May be any of us is totally right but at least we are seeking God and His ways. Thanks for this conversation.

  • Hi Andrew,
    From my observations the world wide moving away from the orthodox churchy thing and believers searching for a deeper reality has more behind it than what we realise. It’s not just a chance event and has a purpose that can’t be met by the ‘establishment’.
    1) As our spiritual hunger grows there is a move in consciousness from the intellectual assent of a separate God ‘up there’ in the sky to the awareness of the ‘indwelling’ spirit of Jesus and a desire to follow him personally. Instead of being ‘fed’ by external sources of teaching and learning (which is temporal and perishes) we are beginning to pick up on the ‘indwelling’ food that doesn’t perish. It’s called ‘eternal life’!
    2) This change in awareness through following the spirit (‘metanoia’ repentance) begins to reveal the truths of the kingdom of God. The emphasis turns us away from the ‘gospel’ of life after death to ‘Life’ now to the kingdom ‘gospel’ and people are beginning to ‘see’ a whole new world opening up with immense possibilities – it’s exciting. The kingdom of God was the fundamental message that Jesus preached and we have been missing it for 2,000 years. It’s within us, just as he said it was and that is where the emergent conversation is taking us, albeit rather blindly!
    See link: ‘metanoia’. http://www.stjosephdg.org/parish/about/metanoia.html
    Brian Sage – NZ

  • The NT did meet at stated times (“first day of the week”) and did have clear leadership structure (elders/pastors/overseers and deacons). It seems hard to deny any of this.
    Second, “where two or three are gathered together” is not declared to be a church in Scripture. The promise is that God is there, in teh context of prayer (if I recall correctly). So two or three people gathering together is not a church. There is more to it.
    The NT church did not have all the NT documents, since they were being written. YEt they had apostolic authority in voice, just as we have it in writing. What we have in the NT is what God has providentially determined that we should have to have everythign necessary for “every good work” including the church. The early church did have the same teaching we have, as we can see from verses like 2 PEter 3:15, where the writings of Paul were already recognized as Scripture (and as hard ot understand).
    Existential Punk, I seem to sense a hostility in your writings that you are uncomfortable with dialogue. I have made no dogmatic pronouncements. I have offered a view, which it seems like you are unwilling to interact with.
    But the thing that concerns me most is the attitude that if you have to go to chruch you don’t want anything to do with God. Hebrews 10:25 specifically conmands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as some do, and ties it to our salvation (turning away from Christ). How can one love Christ and abandon his body? That doesn’t seem to fit from what God has revealed to us.
    Religion, God, and truth are not an “each man for themselves.” I just finished preaching from 1 Tim 3:15 about the church as the family of God who defends the truth. The truth is not a free for all. There is a defined body of truth entrusted to the church, on which the church is built, and which the church is to defend and propagate.
    There seems to be a dichotomy between being Christian and being in church. I don’t quite see that. I don’t see any reason to abandon the traditional model of church. I see many reasons why one might abandon traditional churches who have abused the model. I can’t help but wonder if we are grasping after the wind in this “new hybridity.”
    What exactly are we loooking fo?

  • Larry, i think you responded well to comments and reacted to a definite hint of hostlity(altho it’s always hard to tell in print rather than person!)
    but i still think the dichotomy does exist. by the very fact we are christian, we are ‘church’, and thus anything else that we can ‘be in’, ‘do’, ‘go to’ or attend is not church. usually, it’s a man made construct…accretions and additions which turn following Jesus into religion where sacred and secular get divided up and the fullness of knowing God through Christ is diluted. usually.
    by the way – before i go any further – i must say, i do agree with you that the NT church had a specific meeting time, although that does not mean it was meeting based…but that’s a different story!
    but you ask existential punk how he can say that about not wanting anything to do with god if church is involved. i can understand your concern, there does seem to be a hostility there, and ExPunk, if you’re reading…not all church is as bad as you seem to have experienced!
    yet i have heard the question you asked exP differently too. someone said: ‘How can you say you love Christ if you don’t like his bride?’ which is a valid point…but we must make sure the Bride we’re talking about is the real ekklesia, and not the Constantian descendant which is certainly more man-made than god-breathed.
    however, on the other hand, you are right…the writer of hebrews does make a very clear point about meeting with brothers and sisters. (whether that meeting would be at all like what we see now is a different matter!) But if there really is a christian out there who does not desire to meet with their family, well, i’ve never come across any! i appreciate in cases of hurt and betrayal, there may be exceptions, but the usual story is that someone growing in God actively seeks out iron to sharpen their iron. so i hear your concern for Ex Punk.
    lastly, (cos I know i’ve been rambling here!) i don’t know how comfortable i am with talking of the functionary ‘positions’ of the church as ‘offices’ or ‘hierarchy’, or ‘leadership structure.’ but that is a long story, and frank viola’s study ‘Who is Your covering?’ will probably do a much better job of offering my view than i could!
    Feel free to email me if you want to continue the dialogue.
    appreciate reading your thoughts

  • Larry and Carl,
    First off, i am a woman and not a man. Second, I am open to dialogue and respect your opinions. I did not think i came across hostile – i, like you, was expressing my opinion. i just don’t like being told one is not a Christian if they do not attend church. We are unable to walk in anyone else’s shoes but our own and must refrain from sweeping statements. I go to church but hate it. Times when i have not gone to a church i have not forsaken spending time with other followers of Christ and at other times i have. All i am trying to say is that it is not an either/or situation. Just because those times i did forsake fellowship did not mean i gave up my faith and salvation. i don’t look at God and scripture so black and white.We only walk in our own shoes and have no idea what people go through entirely, so making statements like that can be hurtful, painful and insensitive. God knows and understands our hearts, where we are at and what we can and cannot withstand what man cannot.
    i see what you mean about the people meeting one day a week. but remember, some things are contextual.
    What i meant about having nothing to do with God if i have to go to church is not that i do not want to obey God, but i question your interpretation of scripture. God is absolute truth but as humans we are incapable of fully knowing/interpreting what God says/wants. i have had really bad experiences in church most of my life and have found healing and camraderie outside it with people who are followers of Christ. Who cares whether it meets in a coffee shop, pub, home, sidewalk, etc. We talk about faith, life, pray, read the word, etc. we also serve one another and our community. i felt like you were caught up on the building/structure being the requirement and i simply disagree with you. churches are dying and i believe we are headed to a post-congregational time, which is contextual to the times.
    If not all churches are as bad as my experience, then why is the church dying and why are so many people not wanting anything to do with it or Christians or Christianity. Christians who are dogmatic have done more harm to Christ’s work and leave a bad taste all over the place.

Leave a Reply