This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as 'the emerging church', some call themselves small faith communities, alt.worship, community churches or simply groups of friends. Some meet regularly on the internet or email, some meet in cafés, some in churches, some in homes. There are groups of young people, baby boomers, older people - and mixtures of all of these.
What I see that they have in common is a desire to live a faith that is relevant and connected to their lives and engages with and helps make sense of the world around them. For some, traditional Church is something they have walked away from (or been forced from), for others it was simply something that never connected with them. Others maintain a foot in both camps, though most would say that their energy and passion is invested in the emerging church experiences. Alan Jamieson's book 'A Churchless Faith' tells the story of some of these people based on his research into why people leave pentecostal and charismatic churches.
While each group is different, and expresses faith (or doubt) in different ways, what they have in common is that they are on a journey, ready to live with questions, rather than assume they know the answers, open to discovering God anywhere along the way - in a film, in a child, in the silence...
Futurechurch New Zealand (www.futurechurch.org.nz) is a five year project funded by the Methodist Church, focused on connecting and celebrating these emerging faith communities in New Zealand. Its work is focused primarily on networking - via the website which has a directory of NZ groups, and a data base of several hundred articles, as well as a quarterly newsletter.
And the future? Who knows - Kevin Ward, Otago University has been looking at the impact of social and cultural changes since the 60s on the NZ Churches reflects on the future -
He quotes British researcher Peter Brierley, a deeply committed church person, who said "I believe we are entering a time of churchless Christianity." For Ward what this meant was "not that Christianity will no longer exist in communal forms, it inevitably must, but that the forms of Christian community that it will take, will bear little resemblance to "church" as we have known it."
This 'Emerging Church' is perhaps not the future, but I believe is on the pathway to it. And in NZ we have some excellent pathfinders in Alan Jamieson and Jenny McIntosh, Mark Pierson, Kevin Ward, Mike Riddell Steve Taylor and others.
The future remains an open question but an exciting one as we seek to find God incarnated in our time and place.
Rosemary Neave is the networker of futurechurch new zealand email@example.com