Are We a Movement?

A big question at Wikipedia regarding the global Emerging-Missional Church is this: Is it a movement or not?

It hasn’t been easy to answer. Some countries have seen fast organic growth, spontaneous reproduction and display definite signs of being a movement and other countries just have a few networks or even just a few churches and would not be a movement at all.

I was stumped . . so I asked my history teacher from Fuller School of World Mission, Dr Paul Pierson. In his class in 1995, we studied revitalization movements and he had 7 criteria (or was it 10? my memory fails me). These were never published online. I know because I googled and googled and googled until the heated twinges of early carpal tunnel forced me to cease googling and instead ask Ryan to track him down and ask him. Which he did. Here is the answer.

Email from Dr Paul Pierson [typos corrected and bullets added]:

“Dear Andrew; Ryan asked me to send this to you. The list of factors observed in revival and renewal movements throughout history is flexible and some of these can be combined, but here is a list.

– They always begin on the periphery of the institutional church

– They are motivated by a transforming experience (grace) of God by an individual or group.

– The result is the desire for a more authentic Christian life that often leads to concern for the church and world.

– Face to face groups for prayer, Bible study, mutual encouragement are important.

– New methods of selecting and training leaders become important. These are less institutional, more grass roots and lay oriented.

– There are theological breakthroughs, that is, rediscovery of aspects of the Biblical message that have been forgotten or overlooked by the Church, usually they involve a focus on the gifts of every believer.

– There is a leveling effect, distance decreases between clergy and laity, social classes, races, men and women, and denominations.

– The movement is countercultural in some ways, often because it reaches out to those who have not been valued by their society.

– Consequently there will be opposition by many in the dominant culture and church.

– There will often be manifestations of spiritual warfare. such movements sense the reality of evil and the need to recognize the vistory of Christ in the cross and resurrection.

– At times there will be unusual manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit; healings, visions, glossalalia, miracles. etc.

– More flexible structures of church and mission will be needed and often emerge, different from traditional structures.

– The movement will be led to significant recontextualization of the Christian message, which will be communicated more widely by lay persons to those outside the church.

– New music is often a characteristic.

– Biblical concepts ignored by the traditional church but relevant to the hearers are often discovered.

– There will be a growing concern for the marginalized, often expressed in ministries of compassion.

– At a later stage this often leads to concern for broader social transformation.

– As the movement matures there will be concern for the renewal of the broader church.

– As the movement continues to mature many will see themselves not only as part of the particular movement but as citizens of the Kingdom of God, transcending their own movement.

– Finally, every movement is less than perfect and often messy at the edges and sometimes, at the center. This is inevitable as long as sinful humans are involved.

I hope this is helpful. Cordially, Paul Pierson

Most excellent, and thanks to Dr Pierson for these characteristics.

Also helpful is David Garrisons book “Church Planting Movements” which David gave me in Budapest last year. and we discussed emergent theory and emergent phenomena – which is obviously present in what David has observed in India and China and beyond. But it is not limited to those countries. Davids book is helpful in USA to explain what is happening there. A DAWN ministries leader in USA told me that the number of house churches in USA has gone from a few hundred to 3 thousand in the last 6 years. An early version of David’s book, also called “Church Planting Movements” can be downloaded on the DAWN resource page. And while you are there, grab a free PDF copy of Wolfgang Simson’s “Houses That Change the World”

But as for the question, are we a movement? The observations from Dr Paul Pierson will be a good resource to begin to answer that question.


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.


  • fernando says:

    reflecting on Pierson’s ideas it looks like a movement. to me it has looked like a movement for a while by my own definitions (clear thought-leaders, differentiated culture and self-understanding, strategy for leader training, clear opposition from “mainstream.”). however, this list brings a few other points to consider, including the leveling effect, work of the spirit and the increased concern for the welfare of the whole church. this last one seems to be a shift in recent times.
    i’m out of a the loop in terms of face to face meetings, but I do get the impression that folks in the emerging and alternative church scenes might have more productive views on the mainstream church than they did back 3-5 years ago? would that be right. i know on a personal level I seemed to meet a lot of people in the 98-02 period who had toxic views of the mainstream church and its prospects.

  • andrew says:

    yes – true for some house church and some emerging church
    maybe it was part immaturity and part Millenial fever.

  • joeturner says:

    Not sure why being or not being a movement is important…
    Learnt a new word today though – “glossalalia”, thanks.

  • Pete says:

    Thanks – Pierson’s stuff is helpful – for me anyway!

  • andrew says:

    hi joe
    its more the Americans that are asking the question. As for you and the others in UK, there is no question that the emergingchurch/alt. worship/celtic/britThing fulfils most of the criteria of Pierson’s observation.
    The people who are defining emerging church at Wikipedia also want to know if the word is appropriate.

  • A point brought up from an earlier discussion on this was that some don’t want to call it a movement because if it’s just a conversation it doesn’t have to answer to criticism. Whether or not it is actually a motivation, it’s at least possible that some see it this way, and why the question of it being a movement would be important.
    I don’t know if something’s missing or what, but something doesn’t sit quite right with me about that list. I think it does help to show, though, that emergent is a movement. Thaks for the post.

  • andrew says:

    hi roger
    Emergent Village wants to be called a conversation, but that is only one group in one country

  • michael lee says:

    Just my $.02, from someone peaking in over the fence.
    I’ve never like the term conversation. It just feels kind of one of those words that got borrowed and adopted and redefined to mean something that could have been better stated by using an already existing word.
    A conversation is an exchange of words, and not much more. The emerging church seems to be emphatically opposed to words divorced from praxis.
    A movement seems to be more about a group of people acting out the entailed conclusions of new (or redeiscovered) ideas.
    ‘Conversation’ may have some group-defined meaning that more closely resembles the identity of the emerging church, but from over the fence, it sure looks and sounds like a movement.
    Are there negative implications to the word movement that make people hesitant to use it?

  • ScottB says:

    I think “movement” implies consensus and shared direction. It also implies structure and boundaries, as well as identified leadership. There’s something of a sense that a movement is more homogenous and unified, and therefore I think there’s a hesitance to adopt language that carries implications of solidity when the sense is that it’s still more transitional. My impressions, anyway – I think Andrew’s list is fascinating, and in some sense exciting and hopeful. If that’s what people would mean when they use the term “movement,” I think you’d find it being adopted much more quickly. But I don’t think that’s what most people mean.

  • the emerging church… movement?

    – They always begin on the periphery of the institutional church
    – They are motivated by a transforming experience (grace) of God by an individual or group.
    – The result is the desire for a more authentic Christian life that often leads to concern …

  • Ed C says:

    How does the word network “work” as a descriptor of the emerging church? There is some interesting stuff at Wikipedia that I think may describe some trends that I at least have observed:
    Dwight Freisen ( some great stuff on scale free networks
    that I think are also very helpful.

  • andrew says:

    thanks Ed
    I give out Dwights stuff on scale free networks at conferences – its excellent stuff on emergence theory and its relation to emerging church.
    Dwight is really one of Dr Don Carson’s finest pupils!!

  • Thanks for the post on Paul Pierson’s list. I credit him as a major influence on my thinking on movements going back a decade.
    If you’re looking for a short definition of a Chrisitian movement here’s my version. . .
    “a group of people called by God who are dedicated to pursue individual and corporate transformation; resulting in the renewal and expansion of the Church in its mission.”

  • sheryl says:

    i’m assuming your comment about dwight was tongue in cheek. (forgive me, i can be a bit literal at times.) the little bit that i’ve talked to him, i don’t know that he’d like to be known predominantly as “one of dr. carson’s finest pupils.” :0)

  • Ed C says:

    Thanks for the clarification Sheryl. I didn’t quite know what to make of that one. I mean, just about every Christian owns at least one book by Carson, so anything’s possible.
    Not knowing tons about Dwight and being a first class sucker, I took the line about Dwight and Carson down with the hook and sinker. Yet something did smell a bit fishy . . .

  • tim says:

    Hey Andrew,
    Thanks for this great post. I just finished writing something vaugely similar on my own blog to contribute to this “conversation”, if that’s what it is.

  • andrew says:

    Ed and Sheryl
    sorry. what is fishy? I thought everyone knew Dwight and that he studied under Carson. No secret. No tongue in cheek.
    I met Dwight in the late 90’s up in Seattle where he was starting out with an emerging church in a club (or was it a coffee shop). I was VERY impressed. Mark Driscoll had a model of emerging church (which i also loved) up there and Dwight had another – more house church type and simple (the kind that i love even more). Dwight has produced some incredible teaching on emergence theory and how it relates to ministry in a complex world – i consider him one of the best reflective-practitioners in the American emerging church.
    And one of his former teachers who greatly influenced him was D.A. Carson. link<\a>

  • Dr. AJ says:

    this post is featured at SmartChristian Blog

  • Are things in the Emergent moving? Are churches being planted and ministries being created? Yes. I believe that makes it a movement; I believe we have moved past the “conversation” as much as some people would like to cling to that.

  • bryan murley says:

    Personally, I believe it’s an interpretive community. That doesn’t sound as sexy as a movement, but I’m going to argue that in my dissertation. 🙂
    Conversation as a term hints at the possibility of Interpretive Community as a descriptor, but IC goes deeper. I posted something about this on my weblog tonight.

Leave a Reply