EC- and the future of conferences

MarkoMark from YouthSpecialites: “After much thought and prayer, Youth Specialties has decided to stop producing these two events.[Emergent Conventions] “It became clear that we needed to regain focus on who we exist for—and that is youth workers. “This decision was not financially driven, and it was certainly not a matter of distancing ourselves from our fantastic partner organizations. This is purely driven by a recommitment to our organizational identity.”

You knew that already, if you have been reading the blogs of Americans. I have been hesitant to speak out on this – but seeing all the favourable press, and all the luv floating ’round between different parties involved, I thought i would say a few words . . for she who has ears to hear . . .

Firstly, Emergent Village puts on a lot of events – and have been doing so since 1996. The Emergent Convention was the largest, and perhaps the most well known of those events in the traditional church. But there are others and will be more.

I think Marko, (who has often commented on this blog) has done a tremendous job in collaborating with EmergentVillage in putting on these events. The emergent conversation is a lot wider than youth ministry – as i shared with Mike Yaconelli a 18 months ago – and yet there is still a crying need for resources to those who are focused on youth ministry. Youth Specialties will continue to be a significant resource for those ministries, and we wish them the best in doing what they have been doing for more than 30 years.

As for Emergent, there has always been a little tension with how we connect with the wider church and yet maintain our distinctives. When we first decided to participate in an emergent conference that was composited with a pastors conference, and sponsored by Youth Specialties, there were a few of us that were not very excited about it. I did not attend the first one, nor the second. I tried to get to the third one, and was on the program to speak, but an injury to my hand prevented me going.

So i could say that i never attended any of the Emergent Conventions. But in actuality, apart from my initial resistance, i felt they did a lot of good. In fact, that last EC had a large turnout of bloggers- i wish i could have been there.

But there were challenges and miscommunications. One of the problems of doing a traditional style conference (the hotel, the name badge, the coffee urn, the stage) and putting the emerging church label on it, is that pastors and participants of the conference might actually assume that this is the kind of conference that characterizes emerging church (which is not true) and even worse, that the worship they see presented on the stage for the sake of the traditional church people is actually the kind of worship we experience on a weekly basis, which again is not accurate. Even if participants know that many of the new churches are often very organic, meet in homes, don’t have stages or buildings, etc, they still want to see Em. church leaders get on a stage and roll out some worship or teaching in the old-skool style. And i am proud of the many em. church leaders who made a huge effort to speak in the old language, and use the old methods to do so.

Interesting point -It was usually in trying to speak in the language and within the methodology of the residual church, that the emerging church leaders found their greatest misunderstandings and criticisms.

However, we are all committed to integrating what God is doing among us with what He has been doing in the past. There is one body, one family, one church, and we all need to do everything we can to stick together and walk together. This is not easy when the majority traditional church people do not want to come to our events and festivals and conferences. But maybe we should not expect them to. The truth is, that emerging church networks around the world have done a LOUSY job of communicating their events to the wider body of Christ. Perhaps they dont really expect them to come or dont expect them to like it.

If the middle-ground conferences like Emergent Convention are not the best way forward, then i might have a few suggestions:

– Emerging Church Specific Events.

Lets keep attending and supporting the emerging church festivals, training weekends, conferences, roundtables, parties, and events that we choose in our respective countries. We know what and where they are – lets keep them going. We need safe places for us all to focus on the ministry of the gospel in our culture and the unique challenges we face. These may not be addressed in traditional church conferences. We must continue to address REAL challenges with training and encouragement. And we must have places to turn up and be ourselves among each other.

– Traditional Church Events.

Lets keep attending traditional conferences and events, but put the pressure on for connecting ministry for the emerging culture – not the emerging culture that they would like to see, but the emerging culture as it actually is (there is a big difference). You will find that the people that run these traditional and denominational conferences are more open that you realize to change and a new way forward. In fact, many of them are dying and they are desperate for help. They just need the info and some people to run with ideas. I probably spend more time in traditional church conferences than i do in emerging church conferences. Its a sacrifice, but someone has to do it.

– We will always meet around mission.

We will never really find a happy place in the conference setting. Trad. folk prefer hotels and conference centers and wearing dockers around the coffee urns, while em. church people prefer camping out in a tent at a music festival, or a youth hostel, or an arts event, or a living room. Thats a lot of middle ground to cover and its not much fun for anyone in the center. (Pitching your tent in a hotel?) But we can all meet in mission – bringing justice to the poor, and compassion to the hurting.

Over here, (geopgraphically away from the homefront) there is far less tension in the trench, and much more space for commonality and collaboration.

– The internet is the new place of convergence.

Except this time, the older folk come humbly into our world, mumbling instead of speaking, and asking for our help in making sense of this new environment. The new media is the place where traditional church people walk into our back yards and learn to speak our language. They are already using the software that we create to run their own ministries. Others would like to, and need some encouragement. We are already teaching them how to speak, when to speak, and how to know if you are being heard. We need to be gentle with them. They embraced us, piercings and all, when we attended their events, and now we need to do the same for them. The tide is turning, and now we are the hosts, and they are the guests.

– Communicate well.

Emerging church people must continually communicate what they are doing. We must be storytellers and find ways to put a window on our lives and ministries. We also need places where we can all meet, where the younger can learn from the older, and the older can be inspired and encouraged by the younger.

We can easily see and read what the traditional church people are doing in the old media world. Lets make ourselves a little more accessible. Maybe that means shifting to more mixed media? Many of us only write in the new media world, we publish daily online but have never thought of printing a book or preaching a sermon in a church. But for the sake of unity, maybe we should.

But thats only my 2 Euro cents. Others will have more to say, and i will put a link to them here, if i run across worthy conversations.

For starters, some thoughts from Bob, and a great little history of Emergent from Tony Jones. And final word from Doug Pagitt who says, Emergent Convention is is the hands of Emergent 06 and Beyond.

That means you.


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.


  • Adele says:

    So, why doesn’t Emergent Village put on a truly emergent convention like mentioned for their own to come together and dialogue(camping and the like) and get into other Churchy conferences (at hotels) to make others aware of us and educate the modern church?
    BTW, great blog! Thanx!
    [this is andrew – hi adele – i have done a few of these – either as a singular happening like Epicenter2001or Ecclesisa 99 and we have also done them inside festivals like Greenbelt. maybe i should do a better job in communicating]

  • J.R. says:

    Well put and very articulate. I’m digging the thoughts on this…I, too, feel the tension, not just at conferences, but in my own church. I think you offer some great suggestions, too.
    Do you think those in the emergent conversation feel turned off or discouraged (already) by the lack of desire for the wider Church to sit down at the table and listen and dialogue? I sense that frustration in conversations with others.
    Just curious to know your thoughts.
    [andrew] hi JR.
    i would rather go to them than have them come to all our events.
    also – around the world, and especially in places where the church is not strong, there is a great desire for understanding the emerging culture and how to respond to it. these people are very open to dialogue and collaboration – in fact there is no other ways
    we should go to where God gives us favour – among people who are ready.
    God brings the right people at the right time. Better to go gently . . .

  • Mike says:

    One of the other dangers (as I witnessed last year at ec04): traditonal pastors wander across the hall, attend a few ec seminars, and leave saying “OK, now I get it”. Or, “We do this stuff… we have a postmodern Sunday night service.”
    And they’re right, of course, based on what they’ve seen.

  • good spiel mate – agree with much of this from an oz pov

  • Interesting stuff. Personally, i get my EC meat online while as a band (Rivertribe) we do mission and church on the street. I see it as important that we as a band engage with the traditional church as a valuable means of communicating our mission approach and our alternative worship method. Hence, while some have raised eyebrows that we get involved with such festivals as Flevo, that some in the EC movement have suggested to me is too commercial and mainstream (i disagree), i see events such as these as important communication opportunities where we can showcase our approach and perhaps prophetically challenge accepted norms of doing music ministry. The street and secular environments are still our natural habitat: there’s no compromise there, i just believe that the body needs to see beyond it’s navel and if that’s going to happen then we EC geeks need to participate.

  • Barb says:

    Thanks for this – really useful … again from an Oz perspective.
    Found myself particularly thinking about being drawn together around mission – SO true and useful to think about as our emerging church joins with (in a sense) a trad church.

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