Defining the Emerging Church

ORIGINAL POST:This has been killing me all week. A well known magazine in England is asking me for a definition of Emerging Church. And I am really struggling with it. I have tried to avoid it in the past, since I (also) tend to snobbery and elitism, and dont want to exclude some of the excellent ministries that are doing a great job but are not really "emerging". I will type up something soon and post it here, because you guys are such great critics.

Here are the four questions that i have just answered and sent. i will post one of my answers each day over the next 4 days, so that you guys can comment if you like, and then Steve can gage what response he might get, and if he is still left with a job at the end of it.

1. How would you describe Emerging Church?
2. What examples have you seen that you think deserve the phrase "emerging"
3. Why do you think the idea of an emerging church has gained such popularity over the last few years – why do so many want a part of it?
4. How far do you think the church has to go before it will really start to reach the emerging generation in large numbers?

ADDED: Oct 2006
Here are the links to my answers:
Emerging Church Definition 1.0
Emerging church Definition 2.0
Emerging Church Definition 3.0
Emerging church Definition 4.0
Emerging church Defintion Additional
I believe the magazine published this but i dont think i ever got a copy.

I briefed a number of American Foundations on the emerging church scene. You can read what i said at


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Clint says:

    I did the cheesey listing of ’emerging’. This is what one of the definitions was: ‘To rise from or as if from immersion’. I found this one cooler than all the others cause an emerging church is always rising up from immersion and seeing what’s out there……. this probably didn’t make very much since but if you want to go on that, or totally come up with a better one and rub it in my face, go ahead πŸ™‚

  • maggi says:

    I’m genuinely intrigued as to your view of defining things as ‘snobbish’. Why is it snobbish or elitist to describe the difference between two points of view? Surely it’s just interesting and intelligent, if not done with any malice or judgemntal intent.

  • another post (almost) totally off the topic, but i was wondering whats the emerging peoples opinion of the well acclaimed (is that the thurst?) alpha course? when i listen to nicky, there is so much modern thinking and remarks streaming from that view that i think some of the emerging ‘snobs’, as andrew likes to call them lately, would not appreciate… however, it’s the basics, the very wysiwyg (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) of christianity (am i talking in oximoronic phrases?), that that would be almost justifyable…? and another point, what do you think of the website? i am asking because our church is hoping to start alpha very soon and we have pretty much coppied the website. any suggestions to improve it? could you e-mail me a copy of your posts, please? thanx.
    another thing, this window does not size well (at least in ie6) and it constantly jumps one way or another to the sides as you type. is it possible to fix?.. just a suggestion.

  • Si Johnston says:

    Hmm, difficult one. What a privilege to be writing for C & R though πŸ˜‰
    We always tend to think in exclusive and opposed categories which in this case, as you note, makes us sound like we’re not only distancing ourselves from non-emerging church but are somewhat superior ie., we are emerging and ‘they’ are not, which to me sounds like ‘they’ are content with the status quo. Why not just see ourselves as ‘church’? God is doing fresh things in and with the ‘church’. I’m with you in the struggle to articulate something that maybe shouldn’t be articulated. Cheers for the thought provocation though. See you soon I hope.

  • Tony Jones (unfortunately, no relation!) says:

    Andrew- Hi there! I think the emerging church is entering a time of great watershed. On the one side of the continental divide are churches and persons who are willing to rethink methodology — on the other are churches and persons who are actually ready to rethink theology. Of course, the concept that theology changes is itself a theological commitment. Is God doing new things? Is God’s revelation continually inbreaking in new ways? Is the image of God, for instance, something in the past that we are moving FROM or something in the future that we are moving TOWARD? These are the defining characteristics of the truly emerging church.

  • Dean says:

    Here is what is a poor working definition in my head right now. (I am likely to change my mind.)
    It is not another church or simply a church in the future – it is the church now. The “emerging church” is the diversity of people who are not afraid to be insecure. It is the generosity of people that enable a myriad of experimental activities at the fringes of the church – risking time, energy and resources knowing that some will fail. It is the church where people are willing to sacrifice everything that is important to them for the sake of the Gospel. The “emerging church” is the stories of people who are actively taking risks to explore new ideas and opportunities to discover what it means for them to be a community of Jesus Christ. It is the church actively resourcing people at the fringes to help discover the new entry points for the church to creatively engage world God calls us to serve.
    However, there are a few problems with any definition of “emerging church” that defines itself in relation to the institutional church. Many people name the experimental things happening in the church are the signs of the “emerging church”. The name “emerging church” is used because it is stuff we are not used to.
    What I have recently discovered is that I must be careful in the use of the word “church”. It is very easy to simply think of the church as the institution. My definition has had to broaden somewhat – to something like: Church – those who are connected to God and with each other because they are disciples of Jesus Christ
    If we limit the “emerging church” to that which is rising out of the ‘stuff of the modern church’ perhaps we are limiting in our view of how the Holy Spirit moves. May I suggest that the “emerging church” is also to be found emerging from places completely disconnected from the modern church – outside the institution.
    While they are hard to find/identify they certainly exist. There are people who have come to faith without a direct relationship with the church. They read the Bible for themselves and then find that the institution didn’t make any sense to them. So they just found some others like themselves and did what they could to be followers of Christ. The church exists both within and beyond the walls of the institutional church.
    I reckon that God is moving in the world and outside the walls of the institutional church. It appears that Christ has started building His “emerging church” in places and in ways that may be surprising. Some of the new things are very hopeful and full of life. Without a doubt different and threatening to the institution. I pray that those inside the institution do not miss what may be the move of the Holy Spirit.
    Whatever will church will look like in the future, it will be the result of the whole church trying to be what God calls us to be.
    Well… that is how I am thinking this week.

  • bob c says:

    define definition

  • Eric says:

    here’s your cop-out: two words – counter intuitive.

  • brad says:

    wonder if they’re (we’re) asking the “wrong” [read: sincere but modernist/hypermodernist] question in order to elicit a right response.
    what is “the” emerging church (singular)? no such thing. what are emerging churchES (plural)? maybe there may be such things.
    i like what a lot of people are saying here, but wonder how many of us are starting from the theoretical level and building up to revised theologies and methodologies, instead of the usual attempts to go the opposite direction by tweaking the surface stuff (and even theologies are near-surface stuff!) and hoping it creates a sound core…

  • Tim says:

    I find the emergent church offers sacred space for people to seek God and experience Christian community. This space is inclusive, making room for a variety of approaches and activities.
    The emergent church especially caters for those who don’t fit, or don’t want to ;).

  • Dan says:

    I recently found myself trying to explain what the Emerging Church is about. The best I could do was define it as an attempt to find authentic ways to practice faith away from established church structures. I think that’s a bit pathetic, so I’d be very interested in what you come up with.

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  • Darren Rowse says:

    tough question Andrew – I also am not overly keen to define it – however think it is probably one of those necessary evils to do so. Have put a few thoughts down over at my lil blog. Looking forward to your definition.

  • Isn’t the definition in Graham Cray’s report the best one: “Mission-Shaped Church”. Anything else vears towards a western leaning, slightly self-indulgent reading of the term. There aint nothing really new; we’ve just begun to be forced to or have the courage to start from scratch rather than with someone else’s inheritance. Starting from scratch pushes one to real missional thinking and inevitably in a stream of historic faithful churches.

  • Erling Thu says:

    The emergent church lives in constant change to fulfill its mission of reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ. Any atempt to define it in relation to culture or any human institution is doom to be outdated very soon because of the rapid change in this world. If it is defined in its relation to the Living God, there is the possibility that it would last longer! Erling

  • hamo says:

    Go for it Andrew – there’s no harm in an attempt to describe what is happening around the place.
    Of course we have top acknowledge diversty, but it might also clarify what we do and don’t mean with the phrase ’em ch’ – that’s if we all agree!

  • saint says:

    Well I know nothing that would help you.
    I only agree with Erling in as much as church (and not just ’em church’ for that matter) is “defined” in relation to the living God. After all, isn’t ‘the spirit of God forming the people of God’ one of the grand meta-narratives in the Bible and indeed throughout history? And isn’t it really Christ’s mission in which we participate, as human participants in the divine action?
    But rather than writing a definition, would it be easier to describe what you look for or how you have recognized “emerging” churches or an “emerging ethos” (or whatever the phrase is) in your work and travels?

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  • Michael Paul says:

    The very meaning of Chruch in Greek “Ekklesia”:a calling out. Seems to point towards an emergence of sorts. Lately I have found “chruch” to be more of a community of believers. Sharing, and growing, together.
    I’m by no means trying to define this. Sometimes its hard to put into words what a personal relationship to Christ is. You just have to experience it.
    In a way the chruch emerged long ago when Jesus rolled the stone away from the mouth of the tomb.

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  • dug says:

    This is great stuff. Today was the first time I’ve heard of the term “Emerging Church”, and I can’t say how encouraging it is to read the kind of stuff I’m reading. Lots I could say, but I’ll try to keep this short.
    Throughout history God has moved people to emerge in a new way to reach the culture around them. Typically each movement seems to last between 15 and 50 years, become institutionalized and then form into a denomination or some other type of religious organization (The Salvation Army is a good example). I am praying for a move which will remain fresh, flexible and alive. I think this is what you are working to describe, and it really is impossible to define. A good book is the Torch and the Testimony by John W. Kennedy.

  • Ken Baker says:

    I dont know who came up with the name of Emergent Church but Ilike it, the meaning is in the defenition “a tree rising up out of, are rising up into view” The church I grew up into has existed to minister to those with in it’s four walls. We stayed idle waiting for God to bring the fish to us. This type of ministry is why churches have been going under. The new church or end time church must rise up out of the ashes and emerge as a missional church. We should exist for the lost. Second we have to rise up out of the world on solid biblical truth. Use whatever method you want get rid of the pulpit, throw away the suit, give away some Starbucks, light some candles, jsut remember in Malachi the Lord said there shall be a distinction between the righteous and the wicked.

  • David says:

    I think whatever we do or think regarding the topic of “define the emerging church” is go back to the very basics:
    We (Christians – followers of the historical Jesus Christ – Who died on the cross and rose from the dead on the 3rd day) need to remember that we are
    of Him. We are His Body. God does is not encapsulated within mans denominational or non-denomiational boundaries. Thus, we must be very careful when engaging in the topic of the “emerging church”. Remember that Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever according to the Scriptures. He is not “emerging”. Let’s act as mature Christians and make sure to be followers of Christ and not followers of men. I am not opposed to being part of a trend but much thought needs to go into this topic. Man needs to be stripped out of the trend. Impure motives, self ish ambitions, etc.. must be stripped away… Doen’t the phrase in the popular song: “It’s all about You” – say it all? If we Strip away the man-made approaches, Strip away the marketing schemes, the income targets, the human pride and popularity contests.. we will be able to view the topic of the “emerging church” from a more correct perspective. Than, our focus won’t be obscured with how big we can get, or how popular or home much we can look and act like the world while trying to make sure both feet are not in the world. We will than be able to focus on Him! rather than ourselves. I think many pastors have good motives and are trying to work within the new culture that we are in the middle of. On the other hand anytime you have a large group of people you also now have to create some organization and sometimes that gets more and more complex the larger the group gets.. So, all of a sudden what started as a “loose” non traditional type of setting grows and grows and grows with the folks that prefer this type of approach but than it hit’s a “tipping point” where structure comes into place, a big building is finally built..and than it seems after awhile that the ol’ way it was has vanished and now we are another large corporate structure so very different from how we started. Many original elements may still be in play but the structure has changed. Perhaps we should ‘table’ the term ’emerging church’ and the pursuit of what it means and focus our thoughts onto the things of Christ.

  • ATTN: News Editor
    Press Statement
    International Religious and Spiritual Leader H.E. Shah Sufi Saleh Uddin Ahmed Chisty Gives A Clarion Call to Establish the Religious Brotherhood on the light of Abrahamic Faith.
    β€œThe patriarch of all the believers of Allah (God), i.e. Jews, Christians, and Muslims is Prophet Ibrahim (Peace be upon him, Abraham, PBUH). He built the Kaaba in Makkah with his first-born son Ismael (Peace be upon him, PBUH). This was an order from Allah (SWT) that Ibrahim and Ismael (PBUT) construct this Holy House of Allah (SWT) as a place of worship for all the believers on earth. Ismael (Peace be upon him, PBUH) was 17 at the time he and his father built the Kaaba. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him, PBUH), a descendent of the Prophet Ismael (Peace be upon him, PBUH), would come nearly 2,500 years after Kaaba was built and reunify it as a holy place of worship, according to the teachings of the Prophet Ibrahim (Peace be upon him, PBUH). As stated in the Torah and in the Holy Quran “all the generations will be blessed through Ibrahim (Peace be upon him, PBUH)” (Genesis 12 and 18 Holy Bible, Chp 2 Verses 123-141 Holy Quran).”
    Dear Religious and Spiritual Leaders,
    I wish to plead and make a fervent call to all my brothers/sisters across the world through the courtesy of this letter in carrying forward, upholding the message of Allah (God), His love for mankind, and ensuring lasting peace in a troubled world. The purpose of portraying my call upon all revered world leaders, politicians, and heads of states, policy makers, academicians, and civil society, spiritual and religious leaders is aimed at removing mistrust, misunderstandings the world is unnecessarily obsessed with, we have to liberate the world of undue tensions and wrangling.
    My dear revered brothers and sisters, I have been working tirelessly for establishing peace for nearly twenty-five years. We are definitely running out of time. Everyday a large number of innocent lives are taking their toll for no fault of their own. This has to be arrested. The burning question is how this can be arrested? We can only achieve this by arriving at a common consensus and share our noble vision, thoughts, pooling our energy, resources, dialogs based on religious and spiritual concepts together on one common platform and thus thrust all our force in that direction without further wastage of time. Our Holy Books and Scriptures are the source of eternal light to erase all such misconceptions and misgivings. These sacred books as ordained by Allah (God) are irrevocable. It is enshrined and has come to us as an eternal source of strength, driving force sent through our Holy prophets at different times for the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately, we have not been able to use and exploit this to our advantage, as was the enlightened desire of Allah, through His Divine prophets. We are potentially still a force to reckon with on the driving seat to harness our good virtues for the peace of the world.
    It is therefore imperative, I feel, that concerted effort needed to renew our honest will to establish the doctrines of Allah in this world, in thoughts, words and deeds, if not we are bound to perish and vanish from the good book of Allah. Politicians, policy and lawmakers and religious leaders of all faith, belief has to work in close conjunction in order to materialize our dream for a world of progress and prosperity. My thoughts go out for the oppressed and the depressed. It is true, many thought provoking, peace loving individuals, groups are working in reducing tension and conflicts, but unfortunately not much has been achieved. It is only through the doctrine of preaching love and respect for families under Allah (God) and the teachings of His innumerable prophets that were sent for the welfare of mankind at different times can bring about welfare, happiness of mankind.
    Followers of the Abrahamic faith having one common ancestral root in fact preach love and peace, religious harmony, having sprung from one land. This indeed is a big boon and blessing that we can be proud of. It is time for reality and not rhetoric. It is through this vehicle that we can effectively mobilize our engine together by bringing the Abrahamic faith of all religious faiths together for establishing lasting peace. I have been running all over the world relentlessly making sincere effort to preach the ideology of Islamic Sufism as enunciated and preached by our Holy prophet Hazrat Mohammad (Peace be upon him, PBUH) who inherits the fundamentals of Hazrat Abraham (Peace be upon him) as are also firmly rooted in the common ideology of our Jews and Christian brothers.
    I am convinced that we can march forward in our common goals and gospel without further delay, in fostering synchronization on the principles of our common glorious heritage. I would like to make a call upon all world leaders to form a consensus to ensure that this can be established. Unfortunately in recent years, Islam has been widely misunderstood and there lies one of the saddest tragedies of our contemporary world. We believe that our prophets who had all been sent and ordained by Allah were His peaceful messengers for the spread of fraternal brotherhood and live in peaceful coexistence.
    Website: http://

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