A few Forge intensives ago I listened to Mark Sayers provide an excellent overview of how the 'emerging church' has emerged so far... Its been an interesting journey with some signficant shifts in thinking having happened very rapidly already.
Here's my plagiarised, summarised and modified adaption of Mark's presentation.
Stage 1 - What Shall We Sing? - As trivial as it may seem now, I have a sense that the whole hymns / choruses, 'worship wars' saga was actually the start of something. It was a recognition that there just may be a different way to do things. It wasn't necessarily missional in its philosophy - rather it was often just Christians who were sick of singing the same songs over and over - who decided to sing different songs over and over…
But ouch - the pain of such a vicious debate over what we now see as such simple things! At least it began the process of thought. Can we do things even a little differently? Is there a 'right' way?... Or could there be other ways?...
Stage 2 - Everybody Gets a Drum Kit - Otherwise known as 'contemporary worship'. Some churches bit the bullet, took the hit and went and bought a drum kit, a keyboard and a decent sound system.
We began to sing songs that sounded a bit more like what you would hear on the radio, even if the musicians were average and the singers below par. We had drama as part of the service, practical sermons with 'fill in the blank' handouts and music practices took on a whole new look - because 'excellence' was the goal.
Some variety came into the worship service - but funnily enough it soon developed into a different but fairly predictable routine - 4 fast songs, (which we called praise) 4 slow (which we called worship) the usual offering and annoucments followed by the sermon.
There was no fundamental change in the DNA of the beast, and sadly for many modern churches this has been the end of the road.
Stage 3 - Gen X Worship - As above but with dim lights and candles.
I don't think I'm overstating it? Perhaps the only other real change was funkier and/or louder music, but in a more ambient environment. There was at least talk of the fact that an emerging generation were seeking some different things. We read books like "Inside the Mind of a New Generation" and realised that community was a priority, process was more important than product and so on... you know the drill.
It actually felt like we were on the cutting edge - but my guess is that it was only edgy for the church - not for those in our local communities who didn't know Jesus. They remained relatively underwhelmed with our great leaps forward.
Stage 4 - Hmmmm Crunchy! - The alt worship crowd recognised that we do not all learn, worship and experience God in the same ways.
They reminded us that there were five senses and it was ok to smell, touch, taste things in church. They looked way back and recovered some valuable ancient practices. As a result some very creative expressions of worship emerged. But my experience was that it was mostly about creating a better more engaging experience for the already Christian and often it was a highly labour intensive process with huge amounts of effort going into the co-ordination of each 'worship event'..
Something was mutating but by and large it was the same animal.
Perhaps the most signifcant commonality to all of the stages mentioned above is that they primarily use an attractional or 'come to us' approach. Mission occurs as more people join the gathering and the more attractive the gathering the more likely people will come.
There has been some 'success' in each of these stages, but I have a sense that they are each fundamentally flawed in that they seem to suggest that if we get the worship gathering happening right then the people will come.
It suggests that missiology follows ecclesiology. The fifth stage takes a radically different approach.
Stage 5 - Incarnational Faith Communities - Also known as the Emerging Missional Church. I sense this is where many of us are at today. The key difference between this arrangement and its predecessors is that IFCs seek to understand the culture first, then do mission and from there create worshiping communities. It is a go to them approach rather than a come to us - a fundamental reconfiguration of the DNA.
It recognises that getting the meeting right is not the answer to the missional woes of the church, but that what we need to do is incarnate the gospel in our communities and then grow churches - in whatever form they may take - from there. Having been part of all of the above - and at each stage feeling like I had 'arrived' or 'found the secret' I think I am now savvy enough to know that we are not there yet. As much as I resonate strongly with the IFC conceptualisation of the church I'd like to see where we are in 10 years time…
Are we there yet?...
Andrew Hamilton is part of a group of 5 families moving into a costal suburb of Perth with the intention of being 'Backyard Missionaries'.