A little background on the previous post and a little thinking out loud.
For the past ten years, we have been traveling around the world connecting with followers of Jesus who are forming new kinds of faith-based aggregations. Many of these people do not attend church on a Sunday. Many of them used to be “members” of churches but now only go on occasion to stay connected or not at all. Their most significant communal rhythms happen through a number of separate events and occasions in homes, coffee shops, clubs, festivals, etc. And in the past 7 years, the internet has become another of those places where spiritual gifts are shared and the accountability of relationship is maintained despite physical distance.
In 1997, we helped to start an intentional community (urban monastery) in San Francisco. This became the base for our ministry and the various events connected to it. Since we were meeting almost daily for feeding the poor, studying the Bible, worship and prayer, sharing the story of Jesus, many in the community did not feel a need for a Sunday service.
In 1998 we hit the road, traveling full time around USA for the next few years. Then our travels took us to Europe where we have witnessed the same thing. In every city we discovered believers who didn’t ‘go to church’ but we being used by God to impact their cities and were forming spiritual communities not bound by a Sunday event. They didn’t like the word “house church” because they had not really traded one model for another. It was more complex than that. Deeper.
They were certainly not abiding by the Sunday morning attractional model but neither did they sync with the ethos and pathos of the 1970’s style house church movement. They also did not really connect with the Young Leaders Conferences (pre-Emergent) which they saw as an extension of the old model but still addicted to the style of stage-based, celebrity-driven, Sunday-focused, top-down church model that they had come from. Although it should be said that Young Leaders/Emergent had these people involved from the beginning – including myself – but their voices were not nearly as loud or perhaps the mainstream church was not ready to hear what they had to say.
The term “Simple Church” did not work either. These groupings of believers involve a high degree of complexity. “Emerging church” is a term big enough to include non-church going believers – who are probably a majority – but the culture and language is so different that miscommunication is frequent and the spotlight follows the emerging church models that are closest to the inherited model, rather than those furthest on . . . who do not look like church at all.
In 2001, Alan Jamieson sent me a book that he wrote called “A Churchless Faith” and I blogged it. His research showed that it was often the leaders who left, rather than the spiritually weak and vulnerable. In my annual “Postmodern Church Time Capsule” for 2001, I listed churchless believers as one of the significant trends. The following year, i was invited to a WCC conference in Germany called “Believing Without Belonging”. I couldn’t attend but suggested Alan go in my place.
Since then, there have been quite a few books and documents showing this trend. It is hotly contested and argued. But the fact for many western, post-christian countries is that about half or more than half of the believers DO NOT attend a church service on Sunday. As these people find new ways to connect to each other and share spiritual gifts, a new form of complex church is arising that is more complex than “emerging church” [as presented to us by MSM] We cannot therefore talk in binaries. We need to understand the new complexity that
I am suggesting that the new hybrid of church for millions of Jesus followers is a complex aggregation of many occasions and meetings and meals and projects and happenings. It is a modular fashion of living out church in community but it is not a pure singular model. It does not resemble the inherited model but neither does it resemble what most people think of when they say “emerging church”. It is a hybrid of both that can only be viewed correctly with this in mind.