In a couple of important ancient-history posts that came to my attention in the past month or so, John O’Keefe (at TheOoze) and Diana Baldwin (at ginkworld) write about the morbidity of the many congregations they visit. Their posts date from more than a year ago, so it’s possible that they have seen a dramatic reversal in church vitality — possible, but (from what I can tell) not likely.
Having come to the end of Kyle’s directed-study course on “emerging church,” I have built up a backlog of portentous advice on this general topic. Since I hate to waste a good backlog, I’ll unleash some of it online. My garrulousness does not constitute a warrant that I speak with particular authority. It just means that I’m advancing to the age that provokes people who should know better to talk and write on topics about which they don’t know enough.
But before I start, does anyone ever encounter pundit-consultants on church growth who say, “That’s not my kind of congregation at all — in fact they drive me crazy — but they provide a sterling example of one way that churches can thrive”? It’s all too easy to find hucksters who pitch a do-it-my-way gospel, whose favored one-size-fits-all approach defies he accumulated experience of generations in the church. I particularly respect a church consultant who can support the vitality of a congregation that’s not doing things his or her favored way.
That digression becomes relevant as I ponder, in discussion with Kyle, what point there might be to calling any congregations “emergent.” Pedantic as I am, I’ve insisted that the lexicography of “emergence” matters for an understanding of why one would apply the label in the first place (though usage will, over the long run, determine what it does mean). In a nutshell, I tend to think it most useful to identify as “emergent” those ecclesiastical tendencies that resemble emergent phenomena in nature (to this extent, “emergent church” can fairly be said to amount to Roland Allen’s Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes That Hinder It in postmodern dress).
What about congregational life bears any resemblance whatever to emergence? I’ll try to write about that tomorrow, but in the meantime, go to the experts.