Emerging Church: Use the Word or Dump it?

“Emerging Church”. Music to some and fingernails on blackboard to others. Should we use this term or not as we launch another project? Part of me says yes and the other part says no. Here is my predicament:

I have been asked to help set up an “Emerging Church Fund” that supports the global emerging church movement which is something I and the people asking me to organize it see as a structure that partners with the World Evangelical Alliance and Church Mission Society and helps financially resource new works in the emerging culture that are simple cell based structures. They are a worthy investment, I believe and have been proclaiming for many years, because the money does not go to buildings or to salaries. Because the emerging churches we support do not have paid pastors but function more like the early church, they are a fruitful way to invest money in mission projects because they accomplish a lot with a little. And despite being worthy from a financial perspective, they are also strategic because the emerging culture, although smaller, is often where the culture leaders hang out. Money invested in emerging church movements goes a really long way which is why I have been pointing to so many of these movements around the world for so long.

I have no problem with the concept. But I am wondering if the name will have to change because of the damage done by misinformed people (most of whom live in North America) and by one or two misguided organizations or churches who may have dirtied the waters for the rest. If the way people understand the word is no longer what is intended, it might be time to change it but there are also many good reasons to keep the word.

So, should we use “Emerging Church Fund” or is there a better word? I also like “Emerging Mission” but it lacks borders and boundaries that keeps it focused on starting communities of faith in the emerging culture. I have a poll on this one but I am also interested in what you might suggest as a better name. What say ye?

Related: What I mean by the emerging-missional church.

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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.


  • xeandra says:

    Depends on what connotation you think it might bring to people who will receive the fund with the name attached to it. Is it going directly to people who are already on board with the term in the best sense, or to people new to the concepts who cringe at the term?
    My question is, what part of the process of emerging organic churches with little to no overhead needs funding?

  • andrew says:

    good question. the biggies have been training resources, networking/training gatherings and getting people to those opportunities.

  • Chris says:

    Have you considered not having a name?
    I have been part of a group of people experimenting with seeing how we can support projects (dreams?) in our city with as little organisational overhead as we can manage. We did start out with a name but we have stopped using it as much as possible, because people associate it with what they think we are. So now we are a near invisible group of friends trying to network around the city. We have sources of money we can give to people, however as much as that we want to learn how to support people in many ways without exerting power or control (money is always a source of power and control so we have to work hard to minimise this). Not having a name doesn’t seem to matter. We simply have a set of values (grass roots, bottom up etc). If a project/idea meets the values then we help people. Its about how people do things, not what they do.
    We want to reap what we sow: we want to see generous givers leading their projects with more desire to help others that for their own idea and schemes. Will it work? Who knows.
    It is an experiment and we keep making mistakes with it. I think we are learning and improving.
    People only find out about us through word of mouth. We have no website – in fact this is the first time I have written about it online. Our public face is no more than our cheery smiles.
    Could this work at the level you are talking about? It would be great to find out.

  • Chuck says:

    I feel a name will hurt your reach here in North America. A lot of really fine folks hear ’emergent’ and think heresy.
    I dont agree- but it’ll be easier to unbrand than rebrand here.

  • Kester says:

    My prediction coming true?
    Any ‘denomination’ is fraught with difficulties, creates boundaries, in’s and out’s. Don’t think ‘unbranding’ is possible.

  • andrew says:

    Chris and Chuck – we have been doing exactly that for about 15 years – a very low visibility and no web page for our organization (i bet most people reading this post cant name us) and yet very high impact because we are able to bring resources to many networks and organizations without bringing in a strong brand or name that may cause competition. The Foundations know this and the groups that have chosen to fund emerging church ministries through us would rather get the job done that have a trophy ministry that is a household word.
    however, sometimes its good to have a strong identity so that other players do not colonize you. sometimes its good to have a NEGATIVE connotation to your name because it acts as a filter to those not willing to pay a price to participate. and Foundations need a higher level of administrative visibility to give funds to.
    and i would not want to have new projects reflect badly on foundations who give money simply because of a poor choice of name.
    Kester – you may be right that 2008 will mark “..the collapse of the emerging church as a popular project” or at least the widespread use of that term to describe it. Which is exactly why I need feedback on using the term for the future.

  • Mark R says:

    Will you still use the ‘ing’ once it has emerged because it will no longer be emerging it will have emerged.

  • andrew says:

    Once the churches have emerged, they will not need funding from us but will be self-sustaining, self-reproducing AND looking to support other new projects.

  • Steve K. says:

    This is an interesting question, because I have two different perspectives — first, my “inside of Emergent” perspective and second, my “inside of evangelical missions” perspective.
    As someone who self-affiliates with Emergent Village, I see how “Emergent” has been vilified and become a negative term — and for many there is no distinguishing between “emerging” and “emergent.”
    However, in mission circles, the term “emerging missions” is still being used and in a very positive way, but it is mostly unrelated to the emerging church. “Emerging missions” rather is the movement of God in raising up workers from nations that were once formally only the recipients of cross-cultural mission workers. Today the churches in these countries (many in the Global South) are mature and growing and ready to send out their own missionaries cross-culturally, to other people groups within their own countries and sometimes to other countries and around the world.
    Since the purpose of this fund is more specifically tied to the emerging church (not emerging missions per se), I would encourage you to keep using the term, but perhaps call it the “Emerging-Missional Church Fund” to capture that missional aspect as well.
    Just my two cents.

  • bob c says:

    two threads:
    i suspect that the world would be a better place with the brands, and the baggage they carry
    from a philanthropy POV, what are the issues with a fund name

  • david says:

    as a description of something growing, evolving, reachingn it is useful. I still love the emergent forest growth imagery.
    However, when describing a certain portion of the church I never use the word unless I’m sure that the people I’m talking to have a fairly clear understanding of what I will mean when I use it. If they don’t I much prefer to use terms like new, or organic or cultivating, or such as. As a bookstore category or mission organization name it doesn’t seem all that useful.

  • Laura says:

    From my spot inside the realm of some EC detractors (I dwell here, but I’m keeping a decided foot in the EC), I can say that emerging-emergent nearly always raises questions–usually along the lines of, “Agree or disagree?” Given this persistent atmosphere, Steve K’s suggestion of “Emerging-Missional Church Fund” sounds like a wise choice

  • I think this has the possibility of being the year emerging dies or finds credibility. Perhaps your decision can help solidify either choice. The detractors can only voice their concerns, based on misinformation, for so long until they simply give way to the truth.
    I think this could be an opportunity for you to go back and ask what the original purpose of those who helped start the emerging movement (reaching those under 30 who were not coming to church) and ask how you can communicate to them. And if its emerging, use it.

  • brad says:

    I think a “third option” was hidden in your words. You may or may not have realized it, but in your post you used the term “emerging culture” three times and “culture leaders” once. The past year or so, I’ve found myself talking about “church in emerging culture” more than “emerging church.”
    There will ALWAYS be “emerging cultures,” which makes that a more dynamic concept. However, the term “Emerging Church” has come to mean a very static thing (at least in the North American) – ironic … emerging is static in that context.
    So … “emerging church” has become it’s own paradigm-culture-model. Ditch it, dood. Meanwhile, “Emerging Culture Church Fund,” though a bit of a tongue-twister, is actually more in line with something ongoing and dynamic. The kind of ecclesiastical model can vary, according to the cultural context, which means it can always be fresh.
    Ask a linguist a question, get a lotta words in response. Hopefully, helpful though …
    Meanwhile, REALLY WONDERFUL that someone – anyone – is considering funds for pioneers in working with emerging cultures. What an encouragement and a blessing. Glad you’ve been investing yourself with groups that get it, Andrew. You, and they, and God totally rock …

  • Steven says:

    I’ve never been personally bothered by the name “emerging church,” however from my interactions with people (even within academia) I’ve found a lot of confusion when it comes to the name. I believe that phrase makes a lot of sense, but I agree that you wouldn’t want a name to stand in the way of gaining finances that would go the furthering of the Kingdom. At the same time, you would more easily grab the attention of emerging church supporters if you were to choose to stick with the phrase.
    I guess there’s a deeper issue here. Does a movement ditch its name or core simply because there is confusion surrounding it? I don’t know. The idea of emergence certainly defines the movement, but someone’s got to decide the value of the name. Is the name so important? Perhaps it is. Not sure where to go from there, though.

  • becky says:

    Andrew – Yes, in the US, Emergent/Emerging do get blurred and corrupted but so have the terms Christian, Evangelical and even Jesus – some prefer to drop these words (though some of the monikers they come up with describe themselves start sounding too cool for school). My initial thought is to pray for something akin to “Fresh Expressions of Church” – a phrase that somehow conveys this global movement of the spirit – and then have emerging in the tag line – that way you’re identifying with this global spirit but you haven’t alienated anyone who is turned off by the baggage that comes from EC here in the US.
    Also, the use of the word Emerging and the word fund brings to mind another EC branded commercial endeavor with yet more publishing lines, self-appointed spokesmen, pre-packaged conferences, branded logos and the like. I prefer words like “collective” instead of fund as it has a more holistic sound.
    BTW-I predict with Kester that 2008 is the year that “The Emergent Church” dies – it’s already jumped the shark. The moment you put the word “the” into the mix, it becomes yet another institution aka “The Episcopal Church” or “The PCUSA” … However, the global spirit will continue to emerge just as she has done since the time of Acts.
    So psyched you’re doing this endeavor. I needed hope today after dealing with Dell (losing the computer for a week when one is writing a book sucks – a friend’s Mac just fried twice during major deadlines so I am not into a PC vs. Mac rant.). And you gave it to me in spades.

  • andrew says:

    hey – thanks everyone. much food for thought. too busy making pizza right now (yes, its friday night AND wedding anniversary) to respond but will do soon.

  • Bill Samuel says:

    Any term develops baggage, but this usually can’t be solved by switching to another term, and the switch creates confusion. And I don’t know how you have a fund without a name.
    I think the term EC still has value. There’s something going on out there for which this is still the best short term.
    We have to use names and categories to communicate effectively, while recognizing that there are limitations to them. To me it’s like doctrines. Doctrines are not the Truth, but they can help us grasp elements of the Truth. It’s not wrong to use them, but you need to hold them lightly.

  • Andy says:

    Emerging Church…keep using the name if we need a name!! Although I like the nameless idea better.

  • A –
    Personally, I think you should dump it. I feel the same way about “Seeker Sensitive.”
    Such labels have become perverted beyond repair. Partially due to the Online Disncernment Ministries (ODMs), but also partially because various entities have taken these terms and used them to describe their own brand of said-term that moved away from:
    1) sound biblical teachings; and/or
    2) the original concepts.
    So, Andrew, I say, think of some other term. I’d like nothing better than to see those churches/groups that are Emerging/Emergent, but are biblically unsound just KEEP that label, while a new movement of emerging folks who are biblically sound take on a whole new persona/term/label/identity:
    – progressive church/movement/Missions
    – generational church/movement/Missions
    – ancient church/movement/Missions (fun)
    – enlightened church/movement/Missions
    – illuminated church/movement/Missions
    R. Abanes
    Pop Culture Mix Website
    Pop Culture Blog­

  • andrew says:

    thanks richard and others
    what about “missional communities”?

  • brad says:

    I think “Missional Communities Fund” is a whooooole lot better than anything with “Emerging Church” in the title. And “Communities” works better for me than “Churches” because it is broader; some people wouldn’t necessarily see apostolic teams or missional catalyzer individuals as within the definition of “church,” but those roles would certainly be more understandable in context of creating a “community.”
    Personally, I like “Missional Enterprises” even better. Sounds more entrepreneurial, which means all kinds of structures could “emerge,” such as businesses, third-space groups, social agencies, broad-based/decentralized justice or other kinds of cause movements, churches, ministries, traveling teams, monastic residential communities, virtual resources for global use, gathering events and festivals and pilgrimages … the “things” that equip, empower, and encourage missional work – especially in emerging cultures – have far different structures these days. I think “Enterprises” is a word that describes them, without removing Church or churches and with centering on Kingdom.
    Okay, enough words on words. Time for some nice Earl Gray …

  • becky says:

    I second Brad’s comments – somehow the word missional doesn’t have the baggage of Emergent/emerging in the US.

  • “missional communities”
    “Make it so number one!”(Capt. Jean Luc Picard).

  • John L says:

    Regardless of what we call IT, there’s no stopping the accelerating emergence of a global, self-organizing, P2P ecclesia. We need to remind ourselves frequently that emergence is a verb, not a noun; that missional is art, not agenda.
    and.. what brad said.
    and.. happy anniversary TSK!

  • Mark says:

    a reflection on the “once they have emerged” bit… I’m not sure what that means? When they look like “proper” churches? when they are big? etc. etc. for me “emerging” isn’t about something that will be finished, rather something that is ongoing… we are always emerging, always reforming, always moving – it’s more about being an organism and not a process/construction…
    re. Missional, I love what that means to me, but more and more I am seeing churches use that label with a completely different interpretation.
    and tbh it doesn’t matter what label you choose, within a few years it will have been corrupted, misunderstood, subject to various interpretations etc. and will be bordering on obsolete.
    I’d be looking more at a fund that supports creative, contextual, culturally appropriate and diverse mission initiatives rather than trying to label the “kind” of people that do them. i.e. it’s less about what you call yourself, more about what you dream of doing.

  • Mark says:

    Oh.. and I think it’s far easier to pin down the exact meaning of “emerging” than it is to pin down “Biblically sound” 😉

  • andrew jones says:

    Biblically sound means what I think the Bible says. Thats easy.
    I like “missional” and have been thinking of “missional entrepreneurs” but share your concern on the longevity of the name. It was only a few years back when we had to leave the “postmodern” word behind for the same reasons. Every two or three years? maybe so.

  • brad says:

    Andrew, I think you’re right about the every 2 or 3 years, the term changes. I’ve seen it go in the US from “GenX Ministry” in the mid-1990s, to “postmodern ministry” in the late 1990s, to “emerging church” in the early 2000s, to “missional” in the mid-2000s.
    There will always be risks of deterioration in meaning of a term that relates to a specific paradigm (like “missional”) or people group (“GenX”/”postmodern”) or methodological model (“emerging”). That’s part of why I suggested “Emerging Culture Church Fund,” and I also like the idea of “Ministry Entrepreneurs” (instead of “Missional Entrepreneurs”). These focus in on the place where it happens or the kinds of people who do the work, and avoid the terms that tend toward trends and lose their meanings in the end.
    I’m a linguist – I love words, but I’m also a practitioner, and know that naming something is important, because it capsulizes our perceptions and perspectives. So … glad you’re taking time to figure out what could help this new endeavor sing instead of squawk.
    Hey … “New Endeavors” …!!

  • Bill Kinnon says:

    As much as Brad (and you, for that matter, TSK) are much smarter than me – I’d prefer mission-shaped to missional. Perhaps that’s because I got missional shampoo in my eyes, this morning. 🙂
    Emerging has developed too much baggage – and missional appears to be the new secret sauce which one applies to the beginning of a program title to fix all evangelical church programs – Missional Family Camp, Missional Vacation Bible School, Missional Pot Luck Dinner… “See. We’re missional!”

  • Read your email…. LOL……… i can’t blog on it until you give me feed back……. ROFL…………… unless you want to add…. Mission ALL in stead of missions in what i wrote……
    in Missional Shalom,

  • andrew jones says:

    if ALL is mission, nothing is mission. on the other hand, its a nice touch and clever. blog what you like. nice to chat yesterday on the phone!!

  • andrew jones says:

    what about mission and alt. (alternative worship/church) giving us the word MISSIONALT?

  • brad says:

    no no no.
    definitely yeah.

  • Yeah, Yeah, yeah- i see the point, was just thinking on the “not wanting any to perish” thang, – but i still like the “make a way” part of it-
    ditto’s on the catch up on the phone- how’s “stalker missions” –
    and yeah, pending a post, hint being… “shuddabudahunday eggsaJesus hermin is a nunic” at least 50 times – spoken quickly and in intentional reposes, while shaking back and forth.

  • Cynthia says:

    Resonate w Brad. Wouldn’t it basically depend on your intended audience?
    I am seeing emerging as a temporary stalk or outer layer of a seed – that is beginning to break open and sprout something new. The resulting fields will have many types of crop yields and turn overs – and many things are sprouting outside the church or emerging church world.. If we explore beyond our predefined labels and borders we would meet Him in a grand adventure / mission everywhere. Isn’t this truly missional and cross cultural? We define missional as something a church does – a business can be missional and have great impact as well.
    Either way – I like what you are doing – How about “Missional Seed Fund” Better yet -go for a name that has some sort of memorable / lasting imagery.

  • Ummmmm “save thy tuckus fund”……….

  • Cynthia says:

    Whoa. OK. A bit on the raunchy side…

  • I like missionalT that way… were keeping the Cross in there… you know the kind, like the St. Francis one…. – keeping up with the “jot and tittle” (yeah, – nuther yiddish thang)-
    oh, yup i was being “cheeky” before on tuckus.. tis all.

  • andrew jones says:

    missionalT – i love it. missional but missional church under the cross.
    thats the best one yet. also minimal and i like minimal.
    capital T puts emphasis on the cross
    however, will the shape of the T make a statement on what the actual cross looked like ie, t vs T?
    hello – theologians?

  • Awwwwww………………….. just tell’m in horseshoes and hand grenades Close counts!
    Plus St. Francis was an animal lover, and you know it’s common in this culture, to give more money to animals than to human beings!
    shalom, it’s 5:37 AM in Austin!

  • Bill Kinnon says:

    Hmm. MissionalT – sounds like a great new Christian T shirt brand. But I’m no theologian. Does it work as mission-alT?

  • I was thinking of the hyphen too Bill….
    John L- somewhere up there in the list of responses said call it –
    “IT”- was thinking, “iT Missions”-
    kinda like, when someone asks “what’s the money being used for”
    you could say… “iT’s for Missions dummy”.
    Ok, gotta go clean my house.

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