Best Books of 2009

10 types of emerging church that will no longer upset your grandfather

On New Years Eve, exactly ten years ago, I wrote a piece on the 5 types of emerging "postmodern" churches as I saw them. Now, on the eve of the next decade, I want to expand that number to the 10 types of emerging church models that we have been starting, promoting, raising funds for, training leaders for, and, of course, taking a whole lot of criticism for.

A decade ago, these emerging church models would have horrified your grandfather, especially, if he was anything like the every-Sunday-morning-Presbyterian that my grandfather was. Today, the controversy in most places [depends where you live] has subsided to the level that no one will call you a heretic or the anti-christ if you start up a church that looks like one of these models.

Of the 10 types listed below, I have taken lumps for all of them. But that criticism slowed down to a tiny trickle by the end of the decade. Here are 10 types of emerging churches that were often considered highly radical and offensive when the decade began, but now operate with relatively little or no resistance, and many of which are promoted by even the most traditional denominations.

1. Culture-based communities like the skate churches, surf churches, hip-hop churches, and the alternative culture churches built around metalheads/goths/punks. Some of them were accused of being "Satanic" but not any more. You will find them everywhere (the Southern Baptists have some great examples) and without much controversy.

2. GenX, Postmodern, and "Emergent" churches were once accused of being a "protest movement" but that kind of criticism is much harder to find. These days, the criticism tends to be around particular beliefs that dont match up to denominational or doctrinal creeds but no longer about the forms of church which have proved to be an attractive model for many traditional churches who want to maintain their younger flock.

3. The new-monastic orders and intentional communities, as well as Celtic churches, operating as spiritual communities of faith inside a mostly Protestant world. They raised eyebrows a decade ago but today are quite common and acceptable.

4. House churches, simple churches, organic churches. I was told they were "not real churches" and were filled with people too lazy to get up on Sunday morning and attend a real service. Not any more. It was noted at the 2009 Global House Church Summit that house churches outnumber traditional churches in some countries and are perhaps becoming the new mainstream.

5. Cyberchurch and virtual online communities had their first symposium in 2009 in London with no protest at all from those who used to say they were a rebellion against "physical" church worship services. A lot of ordinary traditional church folk are now also involved in some sort of online spiritual community.

6. Alternative worship/fresh expression/new-liturgical churches were once highly controversial but now leaders from these churches are asked to set up worship for large scale Christian events and provide worship resources for all kinds of church.

7. Pub churches and coffee shop churches and other "third space" churches that were once chastised for meeting in "profane" places are now a viable option for traditional churches and mission societies as a cheap and accessible place to start a new church. There is still a little criticism floating around but it tends to be directed at the drinking of alcohol and the occasional profane language, rather than the profane place in which it happens.

8. The contemplative prayer movement was accused of pagan practises in the past and attracted a daily dose of web criticism. Today, through the influence of groups like 24-7 Prayer [who have actually become a dynamic church planting movement in their own right], it is common to see multi-media prayer spaces in all kinds of churches all over the world and without the controversy.

9. Christians who dont go to church, sometimes called "Churchless" Christians" or "believers who don't belong". A decade ago they were "backslidden" because they didn't turn up at a Sunday worship service. But thanks to the research and reflection of people like Alan Jamieson and George Barna, it is now acceptable to talk about the other half of the church who practice a spiritual rhythmic lifestyle of fellowship and worship without the programs of a local church. The controversy that erupted after Barna's book 'Revolution' has died down to a whisper.

10. Social enterprises leading to missional communities, often buried deep inside urban centers. A decade ago these were sanctioned as "ministries" and "mission stations" and "projects" but eventually, everyone had to go to some church on Sunday. Now they can emerge as their own church without a lot of fuss. These types of emerging church, which I think will mushroom even more in the next decade, are the least likely to use church language. Not even emerging church language.  

Well, thats how I see it from where I am. I dont think my grandfather, if he had kept up with changes in the global Christian landscape, would have gotten really upset with any of these. But maybe your grandfather is different than mine.

Happy new year.