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What I Mean When I Say "Emerging-Missional" Church

I was asked again today so here is me, again, waffling on about  the "emerging-missional church" for those of you who are trying to either understand or tell the story correctly. If you hear other versions, know this . . . they are wrong and i am right. And if i am not right, please tell me because one day people might actually read this stuff and i want them to read WHAT ACTUALLY happened rather than someone's convenient "truth". So . . . this is what i mean when i say the "emerging-missional" church and why i prefer to keep the two words together. Add this to my other thoughts and the plot will thicken.


- a nod to the newness of the movement and its fluidity
- it is coming up out the previous wave of ministry, but not necessarily in protest to it.
- it displays characteristics of emergent behavior that are evident in any system when chaos finds order through self-organisation and other emergent criteria.
- the ministry is a biblically informed contextual response to the local emerging cultural context - something similar to what the wider church used to call youth culture, Gen X culture, postmodern culture, etc.
- it addresses issues of culture as well as mindset (postmodern) and life-stage (youth, genX)

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Emerging Church can be used as generally as all ministries involved in contextual ministry to the younger generation or the current culture (Gen X, Gen Y, GenNext, GenText, youth culture, postmodern, alternative culture, alt. worship, fresh expressions, etc).  With such a broad definition, it is therefore possible to have emergent type churches that are not emerging and emerging churches that are not emergent. If the definition includes new aggregations of believers that form around online communities and conversations, then even some anti-emerging church sites might actually be an example of cyber-community and emerging church rather than objective critics of the movement.

Some definitions of 'emerging church' are stricter and use "emerging" or "emergent" to describe those new churches that display emergent behavior (decentralized leadership, simple structures, etc) Some use it to refer to churches and networks that align with a a particular emerging church network or festival or conference.

The term Emerging Church has been around for decades. One of the books on my shelf is "The Emerging Church"  (1970) by Bruce Larson and Ralph Osbourne.  Another is "The Emerging Church in Ephesians" (1980) by A. John Carr. Dan Kimball's book "The Emerging Church" (2003) helped to jump-start the word in USA.

But I feel it was around 2001 when the word exploded onto the radar screens of the church. Young Leaders in USA had changed their name to Emergent, A number of European networks from UK, Spain and Germany gathered in Frankfurt for an event called "Emerge", Karen Ward started a web site called emergingchurch.org (2002?) and in Austin the Boaz Project hosted the Epicenter roundtable for leaders of emerging church networks.

But the new forms of churches now generally recognized as "emerging" or "emergent" trace their history back to the 80's and are precedented by models first seen in the late 60's as a response to the countercultural movement. The similarity between early churches in the first century and their counterparts in the emerging church have led some to refer to emerging churches as "post-Christendom", referring to the Christendom period in Western culture from Constantine to the recent past.
More: What is Emergent?, Emergant, Emergent Vocabulary


you will often hear the word "missional' added to "emerging" to form the description "emerging-missional church"

The word "Missional" has been adopted by many North American missiologists and theologians. "Missional" was first used in 1883 and, interestingly, a century later by Francis DuBose in 1983. He was followed during the nineties by the contributors from the Gospel in Our Culture Network on the Missional Church, often with a passing reference to Missio Dei and British Lesslie Newbigin. Young Leaders (Pre-EmergentVillage) also used the word missional with an acknowlegement of its roots in Missio Dei. According to Milfred Minnitrea (Shaped by God's Heart), Charles Van Engen (missiology professor at Fuller School of World Mission) was instrumental in bring the word "missional" back into circulation when he referred to  "missional relationships" in 1991.

'Mission Shaped Church' became popular in UK. The book of the same title ties the history of the name to missio dei. Newbigin, btw, did not use the Mission Dei terminology very much but certainly helped in the formation of its thinking and impact on mission in a post-modern, post-Christendom society.

Missio Dei, meaning the Mission of God, was coined by Karl Hartenstein in the 1950's, immediately after and in response to the IMC missions conference at Willingen, Germany. It tapped into the trinitarian emphasis of Barth and Hartenstein in the 1930's and moved the thinking beyond the ecclesiocentrism and individualism of the time. The emphasis was put on God's mission rather than ours  - we participate with the Triune God in what he is doing. Jacques Matthey is the unofficial guardian of the Missio Dei concept.


The term, "emerging-missional church", favored by Aussies and Kiwis, seems to tie together the two strands of missio dei and missio ecclesiae in one phrase. Without the missional, emergent is just style. Without the emergent, missional pours the new wine backwards into old containers, and often without regard to context.

Thats why I like to keep the combination of words intact.

Anyway, Hope that helps. if you learn something that greatly enhances or contradicts what i have just said about the "emerging-missional church" combination of words or their individual meanings, please leave a comment below with the quote or link.

Related on TallSkinnyKiwi:
WHATEVER and the Missio Dei
What I mean when i say "Emerging-Missional" church
Thoughts on Missio Dei

Friend of Missional has a great post