10 types of emerging church that will no longer upset your grandfather

On New Years Eve, exactly ten years ago, I wrote a piece on the 5 types of emerging “postmodern” churches as I saw them. Now, on the eve of the next decade, I want to expand that number to the 10 types of emerging church models that we have been starting, promoting, raising funds for, training leaders for, and, of course, taking a whole lot of criticism for.

A decade ago, these emerging church models would have horrified your grandfather, especially, if he was anything like the every-Sunday-morning-Presbyterian that my grandfather was. Today, the controversy in most places [depends where you live] has subsided to the level that no one will call you a heretic or the anti-christ if you start up a church that looks like one of these models.

Of the 10 types listed below, I have taken lumps for all of them. But that criticism slowed down to a tiny trickle by the end of the decade. Here are 10 types of emerging churches that were often considered highly radical and offensive when the decade began, but now operate with relatively little or no resistance, and many of which are promoted by even the most traditional denominations.

1. Culture-based communities like the skate churches, surf churches, hip-hop churches, and the alternative culture churches built around metalheads/goths/punks. Some of them were accused of being “Satanic” but not any more. You will find them everywhere (the Southern Baptists have some great examples) and without much controversy.

2. GenX, Postmodern, and “Emergent” churches were once accused of being a “protest movement” but that kind of criticism is much harder to find. These days, the criticism tends to be around particular beliefs that dont match up to denominational or doctrinal creeds but no longer about the forms of church which have proved to be an attractive model for many traditional churches who want to maintain their younger flock.

3. The new-monastic orders and intentional communities, as well as Celtic churches, operating as spiritual communities of faith inside a mostly Protestant world. They raised eyebrows a decade ago but today are quite common and acceptable.

4. House churches, simple churches, organic churches. I was told they were “not real churches” and were filled with people too lazy to get up on Sunday morning and attend a real service. Not any more. It was noted at the 2009 Global House Church Summit that house churches outnumber traditional churches in some countries and are perhaps becoming the new mainstream.

5. Cyberchurch and virtual online communities had their first symposium in 2009 in London with no protest at all from those who used to say they were a rebellion against “physical” church worship services. A lot of ordinary traditional church folk are now also involved in some sort of online spiritual community.

6. Alternative worship/fresh expression/new-liturgical churches were once highly controversial but now leaders from these churches are asked to set up worship for large scale Christian events and provide worship resources for all kinds of church.

7. Pub churches and coffee shop churches and other “third space” churches that were once chastised for meeting in “profane” places are now a viable option for traditional churches and mission societies as a cheap and accessible place to start a new church. There is still a little criticism floating around but it tends to be directed at the drinking of alcohol and the occasional profane language, rather than the profane place in which it happens.

8. The contemplative prayer movement was accused of pagan practises in the past and attracted a daily dose of web criticism. Today, through the influence of groups like 24-7 Prayer [who have actually become a dynamic church planting movement in their own right], it is common to see multi-media prayer spaces in all kinds of churches all over the world and without the controversy.

9. Christians who dont go to church, sometimes called “Churchless” Christians” or “believers who don’t belong“. A decade ago they were “backslidden” because they didn’t turn up at a Sunday worship service. But thanks to the research and reflection of people like Alan Jamieson and George Barna, it is now acceptable to talk about the other half of the church who practice a spiritual rhythmic lifestyle of fellowship and worship without the programs of a local church. The controversy that erupted after Barna’s book ‘Revolution’ has died down to a whisper.

10. Social enterprises leading to missional communities, often buried deep inside urban centers. A decade ago these were sanctioned as “ministries” and “mission stations” and “projects” but eventually, everyone had to go to some church on Sunday. Now they can emerge as their own church without a lot of fuss. These types of emerging church, which I think will mushroom even more in the next decade, are the least likely to use church language. Not even emerging church language.  

Well, thats how I see it from where I am. I dont think my grandfather, if he had kept up with changes in the global Christian landscape, would have gotten really upset with any of these. But maybe your grandfather is different than mine.

Happy new year.


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.


  • Bob says:

    I may belong to a #7, and #9 may no longer annoy my grandfather, but it sure gets me. πŸ™‚
    The whole idea of free-range Christians has huge problems that tend to get ignored by many of those who want to justify not being part of a local church- a lot of good-sounding excuses that add up to what is often a self-oriented approach to spirituality.

  • Thanks for this look back, Andrew. It’s sometimes hard to remember how far we’ve come without a good look back like this.

  • Tsk says:

    We have come along way indeed. And bob I see your point and have met a few of those but I have also met a lot of them in countries where their neck is on the line or friends of theirs and I wouldn’t want to be too judgemental towards them without walking in their shoes for a while

  • Jules says:

    Very nicely done. Although some scare me in the fact that some how they are linked, even loosely to emerging, almost scares me. LOL Which I guess is one reason I found myself never liking the label in the first place.

  • becky says:

    In talking with Shannon Hopkins, she commented how social enterprises in the UK are led by Xn groups whereas here in the States they are often humanist led endeavors e.g., the Feast conference you attended here in NYC. My prayer now that funding sources are drying up that such ventures will really take off in the US – yes, we have some of them but there still seems to be a “hope” that a donor, sponsor, etc. will fund one’s dreams.
    Another change is that people used to go to major venues to connect – you still have some mainstays – Urbana, Cornerstone, Trinity Institute, denominational church conventions. But I am seeing a shift that you predicted towards more local and relational gatherings. The author/speaker/conference circuit was starting to dry up in 2008 and I think it’s pretty much DOA – what is worth watching is seeing folks like McLaren switch to doing more web based program offerings.

  • Darlene Foye says:

    Andrew, thanks for posting this! I guess when everything is said and done, the bottom line is: Are we living for Jesus and allowing Him to use us to point others toward Him? We should BE the church, not GO to church (taken from a church slogan, but is SO very true)!

  • Karen Ward says:

    My community fits into 4 of these: alt worship + monastic+3rd place+social enterprise!

  • FrSean says:

    Re #10 I am really stunned that anyone could believe one to be a Christian in isolation from others. The word ekklesia- Greek for church comes from ek and kaleo- literally the called out ones. Jesus calls twelve disciples who journey together toward Jerusalem. To make this faith of ours about me, the bible, and Jesus is to capitulate to Western individualism’s contageon. The truly radical stance is radical community, and physical togetherness- an incarnational experience of loving God and neighbor.

  • FrSean says:

    Sorry meant re #9

  • Tsk says:

    Actually some of them are in daily contact with each other which is probably better than only weekly
    and since our family are itinerant, traveling the world on mission like the apostle Paul and his troup, I guess we would fit under number 9 as well.

  • Mark E says:

    re #9, my concern is that these folk are exactly what they accuse the regular church of being, insular, selfish…not willing to journey with a group of people who will challenge and annoy them.
    At our heart is selfishness, the very nature of being in community with other believers forces us to strive against that.
    Gathering together with some close friends (who are like us) for coffee and a deconstruction of the church down the road is not church.

  • sonja says:

    Re #9 – I was going to jump in here with an anecdote about an interaction I had the other day with an acquaintance from our old, old church. But the judgment and discrimination that is running against people who choose, for a variety of reasons, to not attend services on Sunday morning is running pretty high. So I thought I’d address that instead.
    First of all … don’t knock it. If it’s all you’ve ever done, how will you know what’s wrong or right with it til you’ve tried it? Put another way, never criticize another til you’ve walking a mile (or 10) in their shoes.
    Second … just because I’m not in church services on Sunday morning, does not mean I’m not in community. That is a dangerous (not to mention, arrogant) assumption to make. I am in several communities of people who challenge and annoy me on a regular basis, not the least of which is my family who I do not get to take a break from on Sunday mornings anymore πŸ˜‰ Besides all of that, some of the most selfish, self-oriented, mean-spirited, insular, arrogant people I have ever known, I met in Christian churches … frankly, if that is what belonging to a church does to people, I want no parts of it.
    Third … and please do not get the vapors from this, my faith has less and less to do with the me, the bible and Jesus … and more and more to do with Jesus, me and my neighbors now that I am free from the shackles of church. I am not tied up in the programs, the undercurrents, the demands on my time, etc. So I am free to spend my heart on my neighbors.
    Fourth … when I gather with my friends, it is not for coffee and a deconstruction of the church. Okay … coffee is usually involved, but it’s my addiction of choice πŸ˜‰ But I am past deconstructing, it’s over and now it’s boring. One can only have that conversation for so long. I’ve (and my friends have) moved on to reconstruction. IOW … what are we looking forward to? If we could do anything, what would we do? Why? Those conversations are sparse, because we’re usually busy taking care of neighbors kids, running them around town because the moms are working far away, helping when families we know are in need, stopping my own life to listen when a teen (or an adult) just needs to talk, etc. And I daydream about starting one or more #10 sort of groups.
    Just remember, when you point a finger at someone else, you got three pointed back you. If you want to go to church and that suits your family, more power to you! I’m happy for you. And I’m not going to criticize you. So, please … stop criticizing me and figure out how to live in peace with me.

  • Garry says:

    Isn’t it still the ‘job’ of the church to evangelise? Or at least to edify the Christians who attend that church so they can evangelise.
    Is there any evidence that any of your 10 emergent and emerging expressions of church are doing the job Jesus gave us any better than the … what do we call them now … ‘un-emergening’ churches?

  • Garry says:

    PS: These new expressions of ‘church’ may well not upset my grandfather anymore … but how does Jesus feel about them?

  • mark e says:

    Hi Sonja,
    I was not judging you, I dont even know you, nor was I even responding to anything you said!. πŸ™‚
    If you feel judged, thats up to you to work out where that is coming from.
    I try not to be judgemental of those doing ‘fresh expressions’ of church, the results (fruit) will be the judge of those works.
    I agree that sometimes churches, and people in them, can be toxic, but I dont feel that is an excuse to give up on Christs body, which is what the Church is.
    whatever your expression of church is, this verse is pretty clear…
    “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one anotherβ€”and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

  • andrew says:

    Garry – great questions!!! Wish we had some good solid criticisms like that in the early days.
    1. You said: “Is there any evidence that any of your 10 emergent and emerging expressions of church are doing the job Jesus gave us any better than the … what do we call them now … ‘un-emergening’ churches?”
    Well, uuuhhhhhh . . . no not really. I guess we will have to wait until Judgment Day to watch how much wood, hay and stubble burns off our structures. But I will say that, compared with traditional churches that require a building and paid professionals to run it, well, emerging churches are a whole lot CHEAPER and QUICKER to start, esp. when a lot of people are coming to Jesus all of a sudden and need to be discipled really quickly and their lives are so screwed up that a 2 hour session on a Sunday morning would not get them past Tuesday.
    2. . . . how does Jesus feel about them?
    Well i wouldnt dare to speak for Him on this one because He tended to speak in general terms, rather than specifics, about how His body might physically be represented and built up into the full stature but my guess would be that He is more interested in mature wine than in what exactly that wineskins look like. much of our conversation probably seems quite silly to him.
    what do you think? What would Jesus say?

  • Enjoyed reading this and would rather examine my own life and see where I am.

  • Garry says:

    Andrew … you asked “what do you think? What would Jesus say?”
    Like you I don’t presume to speak for Jesus … and I hope I have enough grace not to throw scripture at anyone.
    I believe it’s up to each of us to ask that question and, in the light of prayer and scripture study, come to an understanding of what’s aligned with the will of God, and respond accordingly.
    For me and my family … that meant returning to a traditional liturgical church after some 10 years of unsettled church hopping interspersed with periods of churchlessness. In all, we’ve experienced first hand most of your “10 types” only to return to where we believe God wants us planted.
    Or is it simply that, being nearly 60, we crave the simplicity and certainty of a 400 year old liturgy?

  • Tsk says:

    A lot of people have come full circle like u have but they all tend to agree that you return dufferently, with a fuller and deeper understanding of the body of Christ. Wondering if u also experienced that also?

  • Mike Morrell says:

    I agree – many of these church expressions are no longer inherently ‘upsetting’ to many…though you’re right, grandfathers do differ (and here in the Bible Belt, things like house churches and ‘aberrant’ emerging theology conversations can still raise hackles), but overall these trends seem true.
    Which raises the question: If these forms and modalities of church expression are no longer attention-grabbing and ‘edgy,’ will we still do them? Or will be addicted to novelty-for-novelty’s sake? I hope so & I hope not, respectively. I think that many of us need to get over our addiction to oppositional energy from authority figures & get on to gettin’ on.

  • Tom says:

    Thanks for posting this article, Andrew. Though I mostly agree with your observations, there is one type of church you listed here that really isn’t a church, and that is #9 (the one that many of your other responders disapprove of). The same thing may be true of #10, but #9 is a no-brainer for sure! How can “Christians who don’t go to church” be a church? There’s no way they can be—unless you are referring to that worn-out cliche that all the house, simple, and organic church people use when they say, “We don’t GO to church; we ARE the church.” But then, if this were the case, you would have to combine #9 with #4.
    I say “worn out” because I used to use this cliche waaaaay back in the late 70s (before the modern house church movement even got started!) whenever churchgoing Christians asked me what church I went to. BTW, I stopped going to church in 1976, but I never stopped following Jesus or having fellowship with other believers—whenever I could find other believers who knew how to have genuine fellowship, which wasn’t very often, unfortunately!
    Anyway, getting back to my main point, I don’t think you want to combine #9 and #4 because Christians who don’t go to church really are “churchless” Christians. IOW, they don’t GO to church, and they don’t consider themselves to BE the church. At least that’s how I view myself, and I suspect this is true of many others like myself who have given up on ALL forms of church—including house, simple, and the so-called “organic” church—because they all fall short of the ekklesia that Jesus created in century One. I would say the same is true of the other 8 types of churches you list here. As far as I’m concerned, the church is DEAD and it always will be DEAD, no matter how many different ways Christians try to change its shape, form, expression, or whatever, it’ll still be DEAD because it’s the old wineskin that can’t hold the new wine. Nevertheless, seeing all the different ways that Christians try to transform the church into the ekklesia makes for some interesting discussion, if nothing else!

  • Mak says:

    My grandparent would still raise an eyebrow at all of those (that is if they actually understood the words lol) but it says a lot that my PARENTS are no longer uncomfortable with most of those.
    I think you’re right Andrew. And as for what all of that means, well, time will tell..I actually don’t think it MEANS anything and I really have to laugh at some of the comments here – apparently these folks either are my grandparents age or they just think everyone needs to be like them.
    And if you have this many readers who are older than my grandparents you’ve jumped the shark Andrew πŸ˜‰

  • Mike Clawson says:

    Nice list, though I do have to say that these seem to just be all about forms of worship and structures of church, and sure, that’s one significant part of the emerging church conversation, but what about the whole, huge, theological stream of the ECM? From where I sit, that part of it is still very “upsetting” to a lot of folks, and is still considered very “radical” and “offensive” to “traditional” folks, at least here in the States. I see from your other recent post that you’re disassociating yourself from those of us engaged in that part of the movement, which I think is sad. Is that why you’ve not chosen to include those types in your list?

  • Andrew says:

    Your grandad may not be so upset with #9 but it seems to me that those commentators who are upset by #9 are right to be upset.
    It is outrageous that many millions of Christians are church-less, unfortunately the response of those who are upset is little immature; invective against those who have left instead of a deep examination of why this happens. In their comments they blame those who have left, probably as a means of avoiding the big questions: why is this happening? what is wrong with our churches? what will we say on the Last Day when we are held to account for creating churches disillusioned people so badly?

  • The ’emerging church’ that I am involved with is certainly involved in evengelism, and we have seen positive results. However, our evangelism is not the usual ‘in your face’ stuff. We m to attract those who have no contact with church and who would never cross the threshold of a traditional church building. We actually set up a second-hand bookshop here in Glasgow UK. The intention was to make a ‘third space’ for local people. The area we work in is very run down and is one of the top 5 most poverty stricken places in Scotland. So we decided to offer free coffee and tea, free WI-Fi and really cheap books. We put in some really nice settees and armchairs so that people could relax. And it works!
    We have made many contacts in the area with several becoming Christians, three baptisms in our first year. The church is currently made up of 4 people, we meet in the bookshop itself.
    Our evangelism involves meeting people in this third space. We don’t use the word church in any of our advertising. There is little to show that the bookshop is run by Christians and we sell all types of books.
    People come and get to know us over a period, regular customers. At some point they ask who is behind the bookshop and we then explain about the church and things move from there.
    There are no ‘edges’ to our church. We have no formal membership. We believe strongly in the idea of belonging before believing. So we have uite a few people in the ‘grey area, the fuzzy area, outside of the main church who would consider themselves to be ‘part of’ without beloging. Thy are slowly being brought into a knowldege of Christ.
    Our work also helps the community practically as we run things like book grups (NOT Christian books) and community evenings. e recently held an open mic nightfor local musicians.
    It works!!
    And to the sceptics who ask whether Jesus approve, well I think He does as the results prove it and we know His presence aand power in our work.

  • As a secondary comment I do not see any evidence of an ’emerging church movement’ I know of several such churches but we are not part of a movement. WE cannot work closely together because our ecclsiology is often totally diferent. The only ‘movement’ I am aware of is the ‘Fresh Expressions’ movement withinn the Church of England and the Methodist Church here in the UK.
    But there are many EC’s who are independent like us and are not part of any group or denomination.

  • St.Jon Clark says:

    I found the non church attending Christian comments intriguing. I know many people who believe they are Christians who don’t attend a church. They seem to try and live good lives, if ones more in and of the world. I think for much of my life I probably believed going to church wasn’t really a requirement. Earlier sonja said, “some of the most selfish, self-oriented, mean-spirited, insular, arrogant people I have ever known, I met in Christian churches … frankly, if that is what belonging to a church does to people, I want no parts of it.” I would offer only one reflection: consider the idea that this is why they are there. Church is for the broken, as well as the whole, for the people who need to get closer to God. I know that learning to love all kinds of people, especially the ones who disagree with me the most, in ways that I find offensive, is one of the most valuable aspects of church. I don’t find that in a self-selected community of like minded followers. I’m an Episcopalian, so there will always be a broad spectrum of opinions in any congregation I am in. It’s hard. But I think it’s supposed to be. How else am I to grow in love and grace?

  • afl1 says:

    Right on, Sonja.

  • Sentinel says:

    Great post.
    I was recently involved with a group that was a combination between #4 and #6 – i.e. met in a house, and experiemented with alternative forms of worship in a Christian context.
    I blogged a few times about experiences with that group – check out the post below and the few that follow it if you’re interested:
    Enjoy! πŸ™‚

  • In all the discussions about alternative church there is sure to be someone who will bring up about christians in isolation from others.
    However, going to a service Sunday morning does not guarantee that you will not be in isolation. I have been to churches where not one person has spoken to me although they were sitting all around me. Oh yes they have said hello how are you but that is where it has ended.
    I have just left my current church even though it is 10,000 strong, has dynamic music, great teaching, home meetings but I have never in 12 months there had any fellowship with anyone. Real one to one fellowship. I have reached out to people but they have never responded because that is not the culture of the church.
    We are there to serve the system and all direction comes from the top down so no one is allowed to initiate from the bottom up.
    Unless our faith walk is about us and everyone else in the community of believers because that is what Jesus came for to save us and set us free all we have is a hollow religion that is all about the system and you won’t find that in scripture.

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