Emerging Church Definition 1.0


TALLSKINNYKIWI: Steve, I have tried to define it and have failed miserably. My apologies. It may be of some console for you to know that no one else has succeeded in defining it, and some of us have been at it a long time.
Maybe that is OK. People in the emerging culture do not really want or need such a definition. And some of us are hesitant to give one, because behind the practices and models of emerging church, lies a radically different mindset, value system and worldview.

People coming from a modern mindset always want to know what is new or next, so they can upgrade or replace what they have. This replacement mentality was reflected in the dominant cultural form of the 20th Century – cinematography –in which the next scene replaces the last scene, wiping it away without a trace. Traditional church services have been structured the same way; the prayer and then the reading and then the sermon.
Or even in trying to understand the new culture – baby busters replacing baby boomers, Millenials replacing GenX, younger evangelicals replacing older evangelicals . . . it just is not happening this way!
And I don’t use ! very often.

This sequential, diachronic, chronological replacement way of thinking is light-years away from the emerging way of thinking, where the new thing finds its place by nesting, linking or layering vertically into the whole thing. New things compliment and enhance rather than replace. This is the new media mind which can stack elements on the same page and see elements as leading to other elements, all helping to create a vast system that works in a harmonious way. In emerging church, new models take their place with traditional models. Asking  “What is the next model “  becomes redundant, since novelty by itself is no longer valued and the emergent is actually a remix of ancient and recent and present.
Thus our hesitation. Our emerging models are taken as threats to the residual church, but they should not be. We want to preserve older models, not replace them. We want them to stay and remain healthy because we see ourselves as intrinsically linked to their heritage. We want our new models of church to nestle snuggly alongside the old models in a way that allows synergy and interdependence. Old wineskins allow for vintage wine and so do new wineskins. If Jesus likes them both, then we all should find room in our ecclesiology for the other.

In fact, we cannot understand the emerging church as an entity by itself. Our new models of church are far more intertwined with historical precedents and previous models than were, for example, the wave of seeker sensitive/seeker targeted churches in the 1980’s. If post-modernity represents “openness to the past” (a Len Sweet definition), then we can expect emerging churches to dig around in the archives of the Middle Ages, re:mix the simple models of the early church, dumpster-dive in the practices of Old Testament Worship, and rediscover non-western church rituals. This has already happened and emerging churches can effortlessly take fragments from the previous waves of church models without having to react against them. Even from hyper-modern churches.
It is this commitment to continuity and lack of reactionary motive that distinguishes the emerging church from both modern and post-modern biases.
This is why I prefer the word “emerging” over “postmodern”. The word post-modern usually refers to the time of deconstruction and refocusing our attention to the Other. Postmodernism did not create fragmentation, any more than Bono created the AIDS crises by bringing attention to it. But postmodernism is now often defined by exaggeration, irony, suspicion, and discontinuity. And since some of the emerging culture has moved on to embrace continuity over discontinuity, rebuilding over deconstruction, a search for grids over dismissal of grids, then I am forced to choose a word that is further down the road than “post-modern”. And the word “post-post modern” is still too reactive and backwards facing.

Emerging churches today are usually a creative remixing of historic and current, of past and present. Trying to define them by their difference to the previous model is a futile exercise that none of us want to devote much time to. The result is that emerging church may be a model of a quite modern hierarchical leadership but with contemporary artistic expression. Or the contrary; a dynamic, fluid, leadership structure with the reliance on ancient rituals for the service. Lectio Divina in a living room, or a guided couch conversation in a gothic sanctuary. Both emergent.

My experience in UK is that Brits often confuse emerging church with ministering to youth.  It is not “youth church” or “Gen X Church”, although young people are likely to model many of the emerging cultures values. Emerging church is open to [prefers?] intergenerational involvement and is probably suspect of attempts to isolate and fragment into age-specific ministry.
Thinking that emerging ministry is youth ministry is a trap. If we believe the problem is youth, then we only have to wait a few years for young people to grow up and think like their parents. But the problem is deeper than age. It has more to do with a different value system and worldview, which they will not grow out of. The emerging culture sees life in a radically different way than their parents, and will need to understand the way of Jesus in their own culture. This is the missional challenge for us, the same challenge that the church in every age is faced with.

Tomorrow: 2. What examples have you seen which you think deserve the phrase "emerging"?

ADDED: Oct 2006
Here are the links to my answers:
Defining the Emerging Church

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 Emergant.org



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.


  • define emerging church

    Andrew Jones is trying to define emerging church. Here is my second attempt (I did this last year in an email to jonny baker, but deleted it (and so did jonny I imagine)): Define emerging church (theologically) – a journey…

  • define emerging church

    Andrew Jones is trying to define emerging church. Here is my second attempt (I did this last year in an email to jonny baker, but deleted it (and so did jonny I imagine)): Define emerging church (theologically) – a journey…

  • BrotherPhil says:

    This conversation reminds me of the U.S. Supreme definition of pornography… they couldn’t define it completely, but they knew what it was when they saw it.
    I think part of the problem (with the process of defining emerging church) is that it IS emerging. It is, pretty much, in its gestational stage… and the spiritual sonogram can determine that there is something in existence, that is seems to be growing into a healthy fetus, but, the “details” just aren’t determinable yet. And that’s not a bad thing… its just part of the process. Heck, we haven’t even settled on a name yet! 🙂

  • Chad says:

    Andrew, I feel your struggle when it comes to even attempting to “define” this emergent ‘thing.’ (which i say in all kindness) Sometimes it seems that we are so fearful of resembling anything ‘modern’ – or even our ideas of modernity – that we run away from anything concrete, like definitions. I love how you weaved in the idea of bringing the past into the future, which is such a needed reminder to many of ‘us’ energent folk. I would also concur your statement that people percieve this emergent idea as a ministry tool to reach young people or other generations. In my area, it is really starting to be a trend toward creating ‘post-modern’ services to attract particular gen’s. Grace and peace, Chad

  • + Alan says:

    That’s good thinking Father Andrew. It is a difficult excercise, and you have gone about saying that well, along with explaining, as best as can be done, some of the emerging “distinctives.” I hated to use that word, but couldn’t think of another at the moment. Pax vobiscum.

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  • brad says:

    just curious andrew … and perhaps this is a silly question, and maybe you’ll have planned to answer it anyway in part deux tomorreaux, but i’ll raise it now anyway. so … if there are different kinds of ‘churches’ that qualify as ’emergent,’ what is it beyond the surface models, methods, activities, and social-cultural context that make them different from each other?

  • maggi says:

    why are you trying to define this? what’s the purpose of the conversation? (curiousity, not challenge)

  • andrew says:

    hi maggi
    a magazine is doing an series on emerging church and they want to fall back on a definition. understandable.

  • jen lemen says:

    by the time andrew is done with it, the definition will be so layered (versions 1.0 to ?) that i doubt we’ll feel oppressed in that special way definitions slay us.

  • Bill Ekhardt says:

    I appreciate the positive affirmation in your definition of the church outside of the emerging church. Some comments I’ve heard surrounding the emerging church have not been so generous.

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  • I like Andrew’s sorting out of what the Emerging church is, and wonder if he needs to factor in two more elements: first, the Emerging folks are “responding” (not just “reacting”, though that they are) to both the postmodern culture and the “form” of church out of which they are emerging. This means the “response” is a work in progress. Second, I wonder if anyone has taken time to compare the Emerging church with the “Body Life” church movement of Ray Stedman and the Californian evangelicals of the late 60s and early 70s, for that movement sought a new way to “do church” and in the process made a massive impact on how churches conceive of themselves today.

  • Andrew Jones says:

    good comment scot
    yes on the first
    as for the second, dave tomlinson’s “postevangelical” has a good history of the house church movement in UK from which he emerged. And many of us in em. church are also invovled in house church movements and have come under stedmans influence.

  • This comment comes from a concern of mine, but I see the Emerging folk wanting to establish what I call “permeable walls” between themselves and the world and between themselves and other Christian traditions.
    I’ve been left wandering in my thoughts in my commute of late with a challenge to reach our world and our local communities more effectively, and how the emerging church fits into that scheme for it is obviously thinking along these lines.
    And my thoughts have considered at times how it was that Jesus drew so many to the kingdom. Here’s my conclusion: Jesus had the ability and willingness to establish permeable walls between himself and his world.
    John the Baptist, by calling people to get purified in the water of the Jordan, and Jesus, by calling people to the table as the “place of grace,” were in effect saying the “Temple is not getting the job done as it ought.” Too many are left out, and the priestly establishment needs to hear it.
    To establish a new “place of grace,” Jesus chose the table, but not just any table. He chose the regular ol’ dinner table in homes in Galilee. Consider the pictures we’ve seen of St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel and then think of just a regular house in Roma and its dinner table. Now you see what he was doing. Jesus democratized the “place of grace,” and called people to come to him.
    In so doing, he let people get as close to him as they wanted: they could walk with him daily; they could sit at the table with him daily; they could stand at the back of the room for awhile, until they chose to sit or walk; they could stand at the door and listen in on the conversation; or they could stick their heads through the window to take it all in. Or, they could even just ask others who had been there. No forcing here; just come as you are and as you wish.
    This created a permeable wall between him, the kingdom, and the world. Are emerging folks doing this too? Especially with the postmodern culture?
    Do churches today have permeable walls? Is it not the case that “strangers” who come to our “churches” know in fact they are strangers. Is it because, and I think it is, we have “impermeable” walls, tall walls, thick walls. Could we perhaps reconsider once again how to reach our community, and think instead of how we can create permeable walls between ourselves and our community?
    I welcome your thoughts.

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