[continued from Hammett : Intro]
If I had a candle for every minister who believes the emerging church is a runaway faction of anti-establishment philosophers, sipping starbucks on leopard-skin couches and projecting the Matrix movie onto labyrinths, then I could probably light up the entire worship space at an Emergent Convention.
But there are 2 questions that bug me:
1. Is the emerging church REALLY a dying quasi-denomination of 200 gotteed, gripey, grungy, groups of protesting, post-everying, peed-off Christians lighting candles to Derrida and trying to convert the mainstream church to the idol of postmodern relevancy?
2. Is there REALLY only 200 of them?
In the article Baptist Scholar Sounds a Warning to Emerging Church”, “Hammett noted that the emerging church movement is still quite small; one study found less than 200 true “emerging” churches nationwide.” Lets leave the candles flickering for a moment and just talk about the number. Is the Emerging Church in USA only 200 groups?
200? Or 2 ,000? Or 20,000?
There are two widely disparate viewpoints on the size and shape of the American emerging church. Both of these viewpoints are from highly respected leaders – Bible scholar Dr. D.A. Carson, author of “Being Conversant with the Emerging Church” and George Barna, research geek and “the most quoted” evangelical in USA, who wrote “Revolution”.
On one side is the Carsonian Critique . . . that the emerging church is an ten year old American phenomenon, characterized primarily by protest against the traditional church, sloppy handling of truth, and hampered by an inadequate understanding of postmodernism. And Hammett’s estimation of 200, along with Carsonian influence, would place him squarely in this category.
On the other side is the Barnanian Breakdown. . . which sees millions of people experiencing church in alternative forms such as marketplace ministries and cyberchurch. George Barna is excited about “what is happening in the emerging Church – not the postmodern, candles/coffee/couches types of anti-modern ministries, but the Revolutionary ministry that is percolating to the surface of American society through new forms of ministry such as the cyberchurch, house churches, marketplace ministries, and tribal faith experiences.” Barna, New Directions.
The emerging church in George Barna’s understanding is made up of alternative faith communities, cyberchurch, family faith journeys, house churches . . . and, not to forget, a group of churches formed as an extension of the traditional model that he calls “emergent-postmodern”.
Listen to the Revolution3 MP3 from Thom Black who works with Barna. (HT: Tim] There may be up to a dozen movements of between one and three million people each that the Barna Group is just beginning to identify. Thats a lot of people. And that what I see when someone uses the word “emerging church”
I suppose I am hopelessly Barnanian. I see the emerging church in USA as a missional, ecclesiological response to the one third of Americans who are impacted by and are impacting the emerging culture.
I would also suggest that the global missiological community, of which I am a part, would line up more with a Barnanian understanding of emerging church. For example, the good folk at the Lausanne Committee For World Evangelization see the emerging church as something far more global and significant than 200 Congregations of the Disgruntled Postmodernists. The recently published Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 43 The Realities of the Changing Expression of Church [pdf] identifies 23 types of such churches including cyberchurch, house church, coffee shop and more. Fuller Seminary’s Dr. Ryan Bolger, who was a part of that particular Lausanne working group, has been interviewing emerging church leaders for the past 5 years for his book “Creating Christian Communities in the Postmodern Cultures”, co-written with Dr. Eddie Gibbs. I would call both Ryan and Eddie ‘Barnarnian’.
And how many are there in USA?
Gosh. Hard to say. The 2001 Epicenter Roundtable we hosted in Texas for emerging church networks was limited to 50 networks and movements. Thats MOVEMENTS, not churches. And yes, EmergentVillage was one of those movements (they prefer the word ‘conversation’) that was present.
A few years back, US Center for World Mission were quoting me as estimating “5000 postmodern churches” – which was something that I never actually said but it seemed to get some press. I didn’t agree with the number back then, and I would certainly not use the “P” word with the current misunerstandings of the term. But, if there are 5000 house churches in USA then there are certainly many more forms of emerging church that would bring the number up way over the original 5000 figure. Add up the additional groups that do not call themselves “church” and you have a number that approaches Barnarian in scope.
I spent last month driving 7000 miles around USA, meeting with church planters and strategists:
– I had lunch with a guy in Houston who has seen 16 Hip Hop churches start up in his city in the past 18 months with the support of the United Baptist Association.
– I had dinner with a lady in San Francisco (also Baptist) who has 30 new churches on the burner right now.
– | had a BBQ with a couple in Austin, Texas who estimate there are 5000 house churches in USA that are visible enough to be counted. Mike Steele from DAWN USA confirmed that figure earlier this year.
Enough for now.
I am preparing for a meeting next week in Zurich where mission strategists will be talking about one million new churches in Europe – and I can tell you now that MOST of these will be emerging churches – organic, simple, probably without their own buildings and probably without Seminary trained senior pastors. Nothing against traditional churches, its just that each one cost about $100,000 each to start, much more if you want to buy a building, and they do not multiply nearly as quickly. That may sound terribly pragmatic but . . . hey . . . we have to get on with the job Jesus gave us and use the resources we are given.
You can read what I told a group of American Foundations earlier in the year in Virginia about the shape of the emerging church. But if you want to research the size of the emerging church, then do some counting yourself – why not start with the 4000 links on Zoecarnate and go from there.
Let me know what you find out.
[update] – Bob Hyatt comes up with 3 categories when he asks “Just Who Is Emergent Anyway?”
[Update: The original title for this series was “Emerging Church Hammering”. Out of respect for John, because it did not fairly reflect his intentions towards the emerging church, I have edited the titles]