Smilies, of course, were one of the most familiar symbols of the "happy" 1980’s rave culture, which gave birth to the British alt. worship movement. But the Americans want to know . . . . Are the British really so far ahead in Emerging Church? I have been getting comments from Americans that show they are feeling a little behind and I want to encourage them with this post. Hope the Brits dont get too upset with me. [hi guys – anyone for curry?] – I also wrote up a big response today for Fuller Seminary’s Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs, who are writing a book on the emerging church. So i am giving thought to the origins of emerging church, and how to measure when it first happened.
A lot of people trace the history of the emerging church back (in the West) to the mid 80’s. The response to UK’s dance culture with Nine O’Clock Service in England and Late Late Service in Scotland was a huge kick-start for the British scene and certainly the first appearance of what we now call Alt. Worship. The English and Scottish will no doubt be pushing that narrative in their histories, since it gives them a 10 year head start on USA and probably 5 years on New Zealand. So yes, in that regards, Americans were behind the 8-ball. Or behind the English snooker ball, in this case.
But is the Rave Factor the best measurement of emerging church? How would you measure emergentness in this way? Maybe . . .
1. BPM (beats per minute) ?
2. LPS (video projector Lumens Per Service) ?
3. Smiley faces?
Derrida, if he were still around, might suggest that this Imperial measurement system should be open to some more deconstruction and imploding since it privileges the English "One" over the ex-colonial "Other". "One" should not do such things, should One?
Even if you could measure it, it would also priviledge me, since i was involved in the very early (mid 90’s) rave worship scene in USA. Early, I say, but still behind the British and even behind my colleagues in New Zealand. Which doesn’t bother me, BTW. In fact, I was inspired by the courageous acts of the Brits and encouraged that others had already contextualized worship inside the dance scene.
But what if . . . there was more to emerging church than just cool electronic worship and God-annointed DJ’s and stageless environments of labyrinthian interaction, and non-linear ambient music in a minor key, and blacklighted Bibles? Well. . . then we would have to look at other criteria for evaluation.
I hope to do this soon, in another blog. But first, let me try and answer the pressing question . .
Why were the Americans so reluctant to take on postmodern forms of music, ie, alt.worship in its electronic, stageless, interactive rave-based form?
2 words: THE GUITAR
– There was the guitar factor. Americans love their guitars. They make the best ones and they make them sound good. Lets remember that the sound of the Jesus Revolution was guitar driven. The emerging church in USA was strummed into being in the 1960’s and would be far more resistant to the DJ’s needle than the church in UK.
The rave scene in UK was probably the dominant youth culture at the time, while in USA, rave culture (despite having started in Detroit and Chicago) remained an underground culture until the 1990’s. America’s commitment to the guitar, and its bias towards live culture over disc culture, prevented dance music from entering the mainstream until the 90’s. American Alt. Worship, if I can borrow that term from the English, during the early nineties was producing grunge bands and hard core clubs, while their UK counterparts were layering electronic sounds in multi-sensory environments without stages and without bands.
And where were the American Christian ravers and dance scene DJ’s? Not in the churches. They were doing their thing in clubs.
Which leads me to 2 more words . . .
– . The disconnect in USA between church culture and secular culture was much greater than UK. Radical change in worship forms were accepted into the church in UK, but American churches closed the doors to new forms, or perhaps they thought their current forms were successful enough. The result is that emergent believers involved in emerging dance culture in USA often bypassed the church and took their worship straight to the clubs, coffee shops, poetry slams, concerts, raves, galleries and to whatever environment would accept it. It really wasn’t until the late 1990’s that some of the postmodern forms were integrated. In that sense, we could say that UK had a big headstart on USA. There was no place for Christian DJ’s in the American churches, and so they set up in the local clubs, or in the case of the Found Kids, traveled the country to throw electronic parties and gospel breakfasts at large Rave events. Wherever they were, they were well below the radar of the American mainstream church.
I know. I was there.
If we look at the emerging church in its various forms over the past 30 years, then we see the Americans coming up with many postmodern church forms before the Brits.
– UK’s Greenbelt Festival (where NOS made a splash) was paritally inspired by USA’s Cornerstone Festival, started by the Jesus People USA who were also experimenting with forms of intentional community and church businesses, and that was back in the late 60’s!!!!
– House churches in USA were also happening in the 60’s, before their UK counterparts and are now way ahead.
– Self publishing (a pre-runner to today’s emerging church bloggers) was a key communication tool for the early American Jesus Movement. There were 50 "Jesus" papers by 1968
In fact, I believe that most elements of emerging church were already in existence by 1968, as the response of the Jesus Movement to the counterculture of the 1960’s. Certainly the coffee shops and Christian clubs were going by then, and by 1968 there were house churches and intentional communities that have not really changed over the past 35 years. The Aussies, also, were responding to the countercultural surfing culture and had new forms of church and ministry by the the very early 1970’s. More on this later.
In the meantime, heres a book title for someone:
Exodus: The 40 Year Wandering of The Emerging Church (1968 – 2008)
However, having said all that . . .
. . . . there is something FABULOUS about the alt. worship scene in UK and much to learn from it. Still. One of the greatest resources available, apart from alternativeworship.org and smallfire,org websites (both created by Steve Collins) is Jonny Baker’s worship tricks that offer a wealth of creative ideas on using media in worship, as well as giving a connection with the trippy, happy past of UK’s alt. worship.