American Sociologist Paul H. Ray suggests in a study carried out in the United States in 1996, that something very significant is underway below the radar screens of the media.
His research was to measure changes in social values and how they change over time. He identifies three major groups, which he calls "Traditionalist" (29%), "Moderns" (47%) and "Cultural Creatives" (24%).
He describes them roughly as follows. The Traditionalist is conservative, the religious right, provincial, characterised by rather rigid, dogmatic belief systems. They tend to reflect traditional values and attend the local church, and prefer TV to reading.
The Moderns are the dominant group - materialistic, egoistic, oriented towards consumption and success and the newest technologies. Their worldview is rational "Newtonian".
The Cultural Creatives, so called because they are creating a new culture, tend to value community, the environment, human values, are global in outlook, read extensively, watch less TV, are anti-authoritarian and reflect a "new consciousness" that is evolving. Sixty percent are women. It is this group that is the fastest growing in our post-modern society. In the mid 1970's it was hardly measurable. Ray points out that we are observing here an almost explosive shift compared to known historical value shifts, which tend to happen rather slowly. The process to date, says Ray, has been unconscious, and may well accelerate when it becomes conscious.
Another interesting aspect of the phenomenon is that while Cultural Creatives are a growing and significant subculture, they lack one critical ingredient in their lives: awareness of themselves as whole people. They tend to feel isolated, and as yet have no common periodical, political representation, church, or common identity. This is due mostly to the fact that the church, media and the political process is controlled and dominated by the Moderns. However, that is now beginning to change with the Internet, where Cultural Creatives are finding one another. There are probably about 50 million Cultural Creative adults in the United States and between 80-90 million in the European Union
It is this group who tend to seek alternative forms of church to the traditional institutional form that has dominated for centuries. They hunger for a deep change in their lives that moves in the direction of less stress, more health, lower consumption, more spirituality, more respect for the earth and the diversity within and among the species that inhabit the earth. Emerging church, dominated by Cultural Creatives, offers more opportunities to explore these issues and begin to make a difference on the wider culture within our society. This is why the Emerging church offers hope for the future of the Church as a whole and to our society.
Chris is Project Worker forthe Woodlands Project who is based at Woodlands United Reformed Church. He is a research fellow with Northern College, Manchester.