In reflecting on “emerging-church” matters, I’ve earlier suggested that emergence (in church life) should involve breadth and depth (I should perhaps have added “length and height”) of people’s involvement in a shared life, and involves a kind of leadership more than a particular form of leadership.
The third point by which I’d expect to identify emergence in church life involves worship — but I suspect that the specific characteristics of worship matter less than does the extent to which they’re internalized and integrated to the coherent life of the congregation. Thus, a congregation committed to very catholic worship, for whom the rhythms and choreography of catholic worship make sense, and enliven their sense of who they are and how they serve God, may be more “emergent” than a gathering of twenty-somethings in a coffee shop who are there for reasons they don’t quite understand, doing cool stuff with candles and labyrinths. The latter will be “emergent-church” in a social-category sense — but “emergence” (in the sense I think most helpfully relevant) involves a community’s constituting a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and it would be easy enough to find a rave congregation that amounts to a good deal less than its sum. Worship that lends symbolic expression to the inchoate beliefs and the explicit teachings of the congregation matters more than whether PowerPoint or praise bands are involved.
It should go without saying that I’m not knocking coffee shops or PowerPoint (I like coffee shops, and when I want to knock PowerPoint I’ll go for the throat). Congregations in coffee shops can worship in ways that conduce to emergence; indeed, such congregations have the emergent-advantage that the force of routinization doesn’t weigh down their praise with the kind of habituation that issues in heedlessness. So I’m not arguing against coffee-shop congregations, or trying to propose that all Anglo-Catholics are automatically “emergent” (believe me, we’re not, no question).
But as with leadership, so with worship: it’s not the formal characteristics that brand it as “emergent,” but the spirit. If there’s one thing that falsifies claims about emergence, it would be the claim that these preliminaries predictably bring about that result. Whatever else that is, that’s not emergence; “emergence” involves a subsequent complexity that one couldn’t predict on the basis of its constituent parts (whether those ingredients include incense, labyrinths, PowerPoint, or fancy vestments).