What I Mean When I Say “Emerging-Missional” Church

I was asked again today so here is me, again, waffling on about  the "emerging-missional church" for those of you who are trying to either understand or tell the story correctly. If you hear other versions, know this . . . they are wrong and i am right. And if i am not right, please tell me because one day people might actually read this stuff and i want them to read WHAT ACTUALLY happened rather than someone’s convenient "truth". So . . . this is what i mean when i say the "emerging-missional" church and why i prefer to keep the two words together. Add this to my other thoughts and the plot will thicken.


– a nod to the newness of the movement and its fluidity

– it is coming up out the previous wave of ministry, but not necessarily in protest to it.

– it displays characteristics of emergent behavior that are evident in any system when chaos finds order through self-organisation and other emergent criteria.

– the ministry is a biblically informed contextual response to the local emerging cultural context – something similar to what the wider church used to call youth culture, Gen X culture, postmodern culture, etc.

– it addresses issues of culture as well as mindset (postmodern) and life-stage (youth, genX)

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Emerging Church can be used as generally as all ministries involved in contextual ministry to the younger generation or the current culture (Gen X, Gen Y, GenNext, GenText, youth culture, postmodern, alternative culture, alt. worship, fresh expressions, etc).  With such a broad definition, it is therefore possible to have emergent type churches that are not emerging and emerging churches that are not emergent. If the definition includes new aggregations of believers that form around online communities and conversations, then even some anti-emerging church sites might actually be an example of cyber-community and emerging church rather than objective critics of the movement.

Some definitions of ’emerging church’ are stricter and use "emerging" or "emergent" to describe those new churches that display emergent behavior (decentralized leadership, simple structures, etc) Some use it to refer to churches and networks that align with a a particular emerging church network or festival or conference.

The term Emerging Church has been around for decades. One of the books on my shelf is "The Emerging Church"  (1970) by Bruce Larson and Ralph Osbourne.  Another is "The Emerging Church in Ephesians" (1980) by A. John Carr. Dan Kimball’s book "The Emerging Church" (2003) helped to jump-start the word in USA.

But I feel it was around 2001 when the word exploded onto the radar screens of the church. Young Leaders in USA had changed their name to Emergent, A number of European networks from UK, Spain and Germany gathered in Frankfurt for an event called "Emerge", Karen Ward started a web site called emergingchurch.org (2002?) and in Austin the Boaz Project hosted the Epicenter roundtable for leaders of emerging church networks.

But the new forms of churches now generally recognized as "emerging" or "emergent" trace their history back to the 80’s and are precedented by models first seen in the late 60’s as a response to the countercultural movement. The similarity between early churches in the first century and their counterparts in the emerging church have led some to refer to emerging churches as "post-Christendom", referring to the Christendom period in Western culture from Constantine to the recent past.

More: What is Emergent?, Emergant, Emergent Vocabulary


you will often hear the word "missional’ added to "emerging" to form the description "emerging-missional church"

The word "Missional" has been adopted by many North American missiologists and theologians. "Missional" was first used in 1883 and, interestingly, a century later by Francis DuBose in 1983. He was followed during the nineties by the contributors from the Gospel in Our Culture Network on the Missional Church, often with a passing reference to Missio Dei and British Lesslie Newbigin. Young Leaders (Pre-EmergentVillage) also used the word missional with an acknowlegement of its roots in Missio Dei. According to Milfred Minnitrea (Shaped by God’s Heart),
Charles Van Engen (missiology professor at Fuller School of World
Mission) was instrumental in bring the word "missional" back into
circulation when he referred to  "missional relationships" in 1991.

‘Mission Shaped Church’ became popular in UK. The book of the same title ties the history of the name to missio dei. Newbigin, btw, did not use the Mission Dei terminology very much but certainly helped in the formation of its thinking and impact on mission in a post-modern, post-Christendom society.

Missio Dei, meaning the Mission of God, was coined by Karl Hartenstein in the 1950’s, immediately after and in response to the IMC missions conference at Willingen, Germany. It tapped into the trinitarian emphasis of Barth and Hartenstein in the 1930’s and moved the thinking beyond the ecclesiocentrism and individualism of the time. The emphasis was put on God’s mission rather than ours  – we participate with the Triune God in what he is doing. Jacques Matthey is the unofficial guardian of the Missio Dei concept.


The term, "emerging-missional church", favored by Aussies and Kiwis, seems to tie together the two strands of missio dei and missio ecclesiae in one phrase. Without the missional, emergent is just style. Without the emergent, missional pours the new wine backwards into old containers, and often without regard to context.

Thats why I like to keep the combination of words intact.

Anyway, Hope that helps. if you learn something that greatly enhances or contradicts what i have just said about the "emerging-missional church" combination of words or their individual meanings, please leave a comment below with the quote or link.

Related on TallSkinnyKiwi:

WHATEVER and the Missio Dei

What I mean when i say "Emerging-Missional" church

Thoughts on Missio Dei

Friend of Missional has a great post


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.


  • geoff says:

    helpful post, andrew. thanks. i think i started using this “emerging-missional…” tag after hanging out with Hirschy when i was home (melbourne) in ’03. i hope it catches on…

  • Mark Berry says:

    Andrew, I think this is a nice little summary! One think I would say is that in the Uk I think the story “begins” with a period of reflection and deconstruction in the mid-90’s… people like Dave Tomlinson and John Drane (and later Tom Sine, Michael Moynagh etc) began to wonder just how had the modern linear church moved so far away from the prevailing culture. (I guess the community that nurtured the reflection was Greenbelt and alot of the reflection was instigated by a sense of distance from the Charismatic renewal movement – Toronto etc.) Other factors at the time may well have been the “emergence” of Alt.worship and the effects (good and bad) of The Nine O’Clock Service… offering partial solutions to a growing sence of frustration and dissatisfaction with the Christendom Model.

  • Tim Keller says:

    Probably should add–non-prickly statement of faith.

  • andrew says:

    Mark – good UK additonal summary!!! – thanks. wish we had time for a fuller history
    Tim – yes – points don’t need to be prickly, sola-ng as they dont cut those who hold alternative views.

  • riddick jesup says:

    I just wanted to thank you for your discourse regarding the whole homosexuality dicussion. Also, I appreciate your summary in this post. I was able to read an excerpt from Mark Driscoll’s new book and he used some of the same verbiage (emerging-missional) It is good to see some definitions and history. It helps those of us who are navigating the waters

  • Ed C says:

    I’ve always thought that having emerging ideas without mission is incomplete. Yet, your post shows how it’s not just a chicken and the egg matter (one has priority or must be in place first), but a matter of weaving. The two are woven together into the same garment.
    “Emerging” and “Mission” are woven together, two sides of the same coin, cream and coffee, peanut butter and jelly, Andrew and Jones. You can’t have one without the other.

  • Dave says:

    Thanks Andrew. Your explanation of the combination term emerging-missional is incredibly helpful. So often the two terms have been used interchangeably in a speakers mind to mean the same thing.
    Blessings brother.

  • Clarifying Emerging Missional Church

    With all the hoopla and misunderstanding about emerging church, it’s good to occasionally pause and look at some history of the concept and a description of what it’s supposed to be, from one who’s traveled the world working with and visiting with those

  • way out west says:

    TSK defines Emerging/Missional Church

    Really nice simple overview of the terms Emerging and Missional … combined with a convincing call for the words to be used in conjunction from Andrew Jones… a good post to point questioners to… Thanks Andrew Technorati Tags: Blogging:

  • Laura says:

    I’m just beginning to take a serious dip in the deeper end of the ecclesial-missional theology pool, playing with the idea of an ecclesiology of heaven.
    Thanks for the context and the sources. Now for the time to read…

  • andrew says:

    great – the wedding feast is a great place to start
    protestant missions was driven by eschatology a century ago but has fallen out of conversation. time to take another look
    let me know what you come up with!

  • Is it just me that is saddened that “missional church” is not immediately thought of as a tautology? It’s the one adjective that should be so self evident as to be redundant when applied to the Church. I suppose it’s inevitable that it’s not when the pastor-teacher is the de facto model for church leadership and is usually elevated above the other gifts. So “missional” is right – we do need reminded that’s what it’s all about.

  • Geoff Pick says:

    The Whale in the River Thames – London
    A Sign to the Nation
    January 21, 2006
    See the sign coming into your City of London.
    See the sign to the City.
    See the creature that I sent to deliver my prophetic messenger.
    See the sign of my messenger declared over your nation.
    I am sending evangelists and am raising up voices, and am causing the shift towards the Kingdom of my Son over your land.
    The experts gather to ask what are we going to do to rescue the whale, but My call is to this nation, what shall you do with My son?
    How will you respond to His call on your nation?
    As Jonah went proclaiming destruction on the wicked City, My call is return to your destiny, the calling upon your land. And remember saints long ago prevailed and turned the nation.
    But no man can turn my purposes and call.
    I will raise up Jonah’s in your land and cause the city to bow to my throne,
    and choose to serve My purposes.
    For the Kingdom of My Son shall reign over this land.
    Via Geoff Pick
    For the News story of the London Whale …
    – – –
    “Where can I run from your presence?”
    Tim Cook 24th January 2006
    My Jonahs ….. I love you and I hug you … and I whisper to you that you shall not run, you shall not run. Already are you blessing your Ninevahs. Look – I find a passing whale and send her to sacrifice right on the doorstep of your capital. Can you now be encouraged – have I got your attention? Oh this is for you my beautiful Jonahs. Your feet are beautiful as they bring good news. Thankyou for feeling sad for my whale Britain – this is a tender place in your nations heart – a good and innocent thing. For I called her from the oceans – I called her in – I sung her in – and gave her to you, Jonah. My scared, and trembling, and struggling Jonah prophets – the young at heart. This is for you – for you are safe in my mighty hands – I have you – in the centre of my will – and you know that there is nowhere to run from my presence. You shall not hide and run this year, but I will pour my gentle boldness upon you – and such love, such love – that you will find the strength to minister – and speak to the lost – and to soldier on. You who were about to fall, and planning how to walk away with your head lowered in defeat? I shortcut you into unexpected victories – and dance a victory dance over you. You who were planning to be swallowed up in the depths and in the fish? Well – here is your whale …. you don’t need it. She gives herself up – saying I will take you down no more. You see – I won’t let you down. My love sustains you. It will surround you like your cloak. For you – there is no whale. Jonah needs no detours, no escapes, no whale.
    Tim Cook
    – – –
    More Prophetic Insight on the Whale
    Heather Butler
    Whales sing, and they call, and they cross the oceans to find each other, and now I’m crying because this is revelation to me as I type, you have heard the cry of our hearts, the lord has sent you out to find that sound, and to sing to us that song of the lord, he has brought you out of the depths and into a place where you are exposed and its dangerous, but you have died to self to enable us to have life in this nation.
    oh lord thank you thank you for that picture of your faithfulness to us to send messengers into this place across the oceans and into the shallows of our lives as we seek you in this land. Hallelujah lord!
    ok, here are the word I was given and the meanings. I didnt know before hand what I would find, but it speaks for itself. We are looking at the meaning of the Whale.
    1. Yam
    2. ata
    3. leveth
    1 = large body of water, the mediteranean or LARGE RIVER
    2 = Close up – shut up
    3 = abide with, cleave to, unite, adhesion, join to.
    The Whale came from the sea into the large river, it was shut up closed in there, if you look at the word to jerry about the whale a picture of cleaving to us, uniting joining with us.
    I asked for a bible passage, I got page 1010 which is Isaiah 8 from verses 6 – 18 in this passage you will see the flood that other prophetic words speaks of, and it looks very bleak, but read on and you will see that this is not to be feared, that the lord is with them.
    I believe that there are righteous people in the land and across the waters that have raised a standard in this nation and the lord has heard that voice.

  • Andrew,
    Once again — a nice post out of your wisdom and perspective. Helpful. Maybe a little more on what “missional” means — as it tends to be much more emphatically holistic on this side of the water.
    And, do you agree with me that some are more emerging-ancient/future than emerging-missional? Seems that way to me: some focus more on worship style.

  • Andrew Jones: Emerging-Missional Church

    The TallSkinnyKiwis at it again, answering questions, provoking discussion, shaping the language of the emerging-missional church conversation. Im always grateful for Andrews thoughts. His deep appreciation and respe…

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    Andrew Jones opines on the meaning of emerging-missional church which sparked a lot of linkage like a post from Brian Baute, who votes thumbs-up on the E-MC term. Potentially lots more to be said on the subject, but the Tall Skin…

  • Tim Keller says:

    Food for thought.
    Missional: A church whose witness to Christ is mainly out in the society where it incarnates the gospel in community and individual lives, entering yet retelling the culture’s story, showing how in Jesus its hopes, themes, and plot-lines can will a happy ending.

  • Hismethod says:

    A short primer on the Emerging Missional Church

    Andrew Jones, Tall Skinny Kiwi and God father amongst the blogging Christians has posted a useful primer of the Emerging Missional Church and what it all means. If youve heard the term without sussing out the details, you really should have a r…

  • andrew says:

    great sentence, tim. now if it acknowledged the Trinity by containing a reference to the Spirit . . .

  • andrew says:

    scott – yes. many have joined in by copying what they saw without understanding the missional approach that justified it.
    sad, but understandable.

  • Mike says:

    Andrew, thank you for the wise overview. It’s helpful.

  • Alan Hirsch says:

    And long may the TallSkinnyKing rule over the Emerging-Missional-Church.
    Thanks Andrew for the great post. My sentiments exactly.

  • andrew says:

    Alan, it was partly you and mike i was referring to when i said the Australians prefer the term
    thanks for your persistance in preserving it and for your excellent book “Shaping of Things to Come”

  • “Emerging-Missional” Church

    TallSkinnyKiwi Andrew Jones posted yesterday about what he means when he talks about the Emerging-Missional Church. This is the kind of post and the kind of idea that gets me excited. It’s not just an inward expression of church and

  • Tim Bailey says:

    oh, this is good.
    i think many of us in Canada think the same way.

  • Brandon says:

    A very helpful summary, Andrew. Thanks for continuing to bring clarity to the big picture in these things.
    Do you think it could also be said that without missional, emergent is just another attempt to take the controls of Christianity in a Christendom/Protestant (i.e., protesting) manner? Darrel Guder makes a point in one of his books that the reformation did not actually change many of the patterns inherited by “the Constaninian turn.”
    Could it be that without the missional, emergent, though helpful, is not enough to bring the church back around to it’s roots of being the catalyst of change in the world that Jesus meant for it to be?
    Just some things that I’m chewing on these days. Thanks again for your thoughts. As soon as I finish the last story in “Dubliners,” I’m picking up “Shaping of Things to Come,” with full expectation of further challenge, wisdom, and blog fodder. =)

  • Alan Hirsch says:

    Seriously Andrew, I think your voice needs to move beyond blogging and into a book. I think you have so much to offer. I want to encourage you to gather your energies and gift us. Please! Your fan.

  • andrew says:

    i am writing a book – have been for a number of years. it keeps getting bigger
    later this year i hope to release something.
    thanks for the encouragement.

  • andrew says:

    i think the church needs to contantly reexamine its roots and the new context in light of the unchanging gospel.

  • Tiffany says:

    Thanks for the great thoughts, Andrew. I am newer to the “emerging conversation,” but I deeply resonate with the church being missional where “the emphasis is put on God’s mission rather than ours – we participate with the Triune God in what he is doing…” It’s all about being God and others-centered. Thanks.

  • Emerging-Missional Church

    Andrew Jones, aka TallSkinnyKiwi, posted earlier this week about what it means to be an “emerging-missional” church. I agree with Andrew that we must be both together — and that the two ideas go hand-in-hand. Check out his post and…

  • RC says:

    I like the conversation…I think that what you write is great…I certainly see too many churches that are emerging with out being missional…or missional while…well, not emerging.
    I should ponder putting this termanology together in my vocublary more.
    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

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  • blind beggar says:

    Great post Andrew. Emerging does not equal missional and I so I like your term emerging-missional. For me, being a missional people is so important!

  • My friend,
    Given that you are in the UK you may not know this. But in America, Emerging and Missional, terms I resonate with, also means “Primarily young white Christians.” Any thoughts as to why postmodern Christianity is still hanging on to such a modern vestige?
    love your blog,

  • What is the Emerging Church?

    :: Definitions: Alt worship emerging church :: alternativeworship.org ::
    :: Emerging Church :: Wikipedia ::
    :: The Emerging Church :: Ancient Faith for a Postmodern World :: Marcia Ford ::
    :: Nine core practices of emerging churches :: Summary …

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    Let’s face it – nobody knows what anyone means by the term “emerging church.” For some, it’s the world’s biggest heresy since Gnosticism (or the “Left Behind” series – take your pick), and to others it’s the greatest thing since

  • andrew says:

    hi jazztheologian – just found this comment.
    Given that I am no longer based in USA – as I was for the previous decade, I may not know that or other interesting facts. But I would say that the white middle class church experienced more fragmentation during modernity than did the black or hispanic churches and therefore have a greater adjustment to make.
    but the emerging church in USA is actually more colorful and diverse than it seems on the surface. Its just that books ending up at the local Christian bookstore are usually written by one particular demographic. This is unfortunate.

  • Steve Hayes says:

    Thanks for this post, which helped to clarify some thing that I’ve been wondering about for some time.
    I still have some questions, however.
    You said of “emerging” that “it is coming up out the previous wave of ministry, but not necessarily in protest to it”
    What was the previous wave of ministry?

  • andrew says:

    different for every country, steve. for me it was more the seeker and church growth movement and GenX/postmodern church.

  • dave says:

    Andrew, I know Im a bit behind the 8 bal but this is a a really good post – keep it up.
    BTW do you know that Frost and Hirsch have each got a new book out?

  • andrew jones says:

    yes – they both sent me their books. thanks dave.

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