There is only one Mount Everest; one Eiffel Tower; one London Bridge. Most people are able to view a photo of each of these and immediately identify them because of their universal familiarity.

Such is not the case with the Emerging Church. There is no single monolith, image, definition or practice of the Emerging Church that can be reproduced, imitated or copied from one city or region to another. In fact, do a quick search of the world wide web and you'll soon discover there is no single "creature" called the Emerging Church. The term is defined by its users, and is dependent upon their own theological, sociological and cultural persuasion.

In our use of the term "Emerging Church" at Next Reformation Network and G2k, we are not talking about a theological departure from our conservative, evangelical biblical roots. Several years ago I was interviewed by a committee from a well-known evangelical denomination. One of the interviewers asked me, "what has this shift of thinking you've experienced done to your theology?" My answer was "it has only deepened the theology I've always believed."

Simply put, we believe theologically what we've always believed (read the "values" page at
www.gregaustin.org or "what do the leaders of nRn believe" at www.nrn.net
). However, what we believe ecclesiologically (how we actually practice church) has changed radically over the past decade.

One of the beauties of the Emerging Church is its liquidity – its ability to change, mutate, and flow into the stream of society from whence it emerges. This capacity insures that the Church does not become (as has much of the institutional church) a round peg in a square hole.

Think about the church experiences you’ve had through your life. If you’re “average”, you have found more often than not that the church has not spoken to you in a language you understood. The church may not have addressed the needs of your life in a relevant, practical way. Much of worship might seem contrived. Sermons are too often the product of last-minute desperation, coughed up by an overworked, stressed-out and weary pastor. Many Christians won't speak about these things, for fear they'll be labeled trouble-makers or rebels, but deep in the hearts of a majority of believers in the U.S. and in much of the westernized world, these thoughts are abundant and frequent.

A poll taken in a Seattle suburb (among just regular folks, not church people) in July of 2003 suggests the following – by an overwhelming percentage. When  asked “what is the greatest thing the church can do for our community?” the most frequent answer was “provide a sense of belonging.”

Apparently, people in at least this suburb feel the church provides the opposite: “I don’t feel that I belong or that I am accepted when I attend church.”

A second question was this: “If you do not attend church regularly, what is the reason?” The answer? “I work five days a week. When Sunday comes, I’m exhausted, I haven’t had any time with my family, I have a home to care for....” the answer went on and on.

Does any of this ring true with you? “Church” has always existed in your lifetime. In fact, as the saying goes, “there’s a church on every corner.” There are formal churches, informal churches, “seeker-sensitive” churches and “come-as-you-are” churches. There are musical churches, teaching churches, family churches, charismatic churches, bible churches, name-it-and-claim-it churches, Word churches, up-scale churches, traditional churches, community churches, denominational churches, house churches, fellowship churches, “boomer” churches, relational churches, non-denominational churches, independent churches, Catholic churches, Protestant churches, “High” churches, neighborhood churches......with all these churches, one would think that “church” has saturated society; that in this twenty-first century, modern world, there is a church for every need, every taste, every man, woman and child in the world!

And yet, sadly, churches continue to shrink in number. More and more people assign the term “irrelevant” to their personal lexicons when the subject of “church” is broached.

On a recent flight to Cincinnati I sat beside a young woman whose family recently moved to that city. We were   talking about the Emerging Church and the Institutional church. She said, “We’ve looked all over the city for a   church. We’ve found “Church Lite” and “Hollywood Church” and every kind of church you can think of; but we    can’t find a church where we feel at home.” “....Home.” “A sense of belonging.” “Relationship.” Think about it.....

Now, read just some of the church mottos I plucked from my own local telephone directory:

Where people gather...to worship, share and learn
A growing church serving a growing community
Building people through a loving, caring fellowship: Building a church through loving, caring people.
Where Truth and Love Make difference
We Build Hope
In the Heart of the City – With the City at Heart
Large enough to serve you, Small enough to know you
Transforming Lives and Building Dreams
Reproducing Authentic Christianity
The End of Your Search for a Friendly Church
A Place For You
Biblically Based...Family Oriented...Dynamic Fellowship
Living Hope For Real People

King James Version Only
Proclaiming & Demonstrating the Love of God through Christ
Bible Believing, Christ centered
21st Century Church - Come see our NEW Building

A Community Dedicated to Seeking God and Serving People
A Church involved in & Caring About the Community
Experience God’s Presence – The Church That Cares
Start a New Way of Living!
Where the Bible is Believed and Taught
A Historic Building
Building a Community of Grace
Unique, Expressive & Powerful!
Building Holy and Healthy Lives
A Family Church
Growing Together
We are followers of Jesus Christ inviting you to follow along with us
Proclaiming the Good News of God’s Sovereign Grace
Where God’s Word & Spirit bring Freedom
End Your Search For a Friendly, Spiritual Church
The Liberal Religious Alternative


With all these descriptions, one would think "Wow! There's got to be a great church for all our needs in one of  those mottos!" I mean, just think about these: Building people through a loving, caring fellowship: Building a church through loving, caring people. Where Truth and Love Make difference We Build Hope End Your Search For a Friendly, Spiritual Church

Yet week after week, the numbers of "unchurched" "out-of-church" "ex-church" "former church" grow larger and larger. George Barna has located more than 10 million American Christians who do not attend any kind of church at all. (These aren't the bunch you may be thinking of "Oh, there are lots of people who claim to be Christians, but they're only Christian in name." Not those folks. Barna is a pretty smart pollster. He's also a born again Christian.    He knows the difference between the social "Christians" and the born again variety).

Have you found certain words cropping up in your mind lately when you think or talk about church? Words such as "irrelevant" or "what's the point?" or "why bother?" If you've struggled with thoughts like these, please be encouraged; while some folks want to assign you to the religious scrap heap, believing that you're just "backslidden" or part of the prophesied "great falling away," some of us see something else happening. Something  frightening and at the same time encouraging and hopeful.

I was visiting a 40 million dollar church complex not long ago. There's a shopping mall atmosphere as you  wander through the gift shop, the book shop, the coffee shop and the clothing shop. There is a multi-media presentation streaming from flat panel screens strategically attached to walls. You can give your finances with the  new whiz bang credit card machines. My head was spinning as I took in the rich, plush environment and I was  thinking about the humble beginnings of "church" just after Jesus ascended into heaven following His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. And a scripture came to my mind. I've studied biblical hermeneutics and I understand something of context, language, audience, and all those things, but the scripture just seemed to hang around in my mind as I thought about the "temple" I was walking through.

"And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty."

The Emerging Church - I'm not smart enough to engage in all the "postmodern" discussions and therefore I'm unable to give my use of the term a fancy definition. For me, Emerging Church just means a Safe Place, a Harbor, a Haven, something a bit less ostentatious than what we've  known. I'm ready for the "Church" to "Emerge", how about you?

In His Grace

Greg

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