Home > Church, Faith > Is the Emergent Movement Only Temporary?

Is the Emergent Movement Only Temporary?

In this interesting post, pastors Dave Schmelzer and Charles Park propose that the emergent movement, while currently very effective and relevant, is by its nature reaching primarily a transient population that will eventually disappear, leaving emergent-oriented churches high and dry, so to speak. The observation is essentially that the emergent movement is most attractive to the currently high volume of people leaving the church, rather than the growing population of unchurched folks, with its message, “we’re not your father’s church”, or in other words, we do church more authentically, or with more relevance, or effectiveness, and so on. It stands to reason though that eventually this outflow will stabilize as people settle out into whatever church or unchurch they choose, and the population of folks looking for what emergents uniquely offer will more or less dry up.

Now I’m all for the emergent movement, and certainly gravitated in recent years toward the values it espouses and general culture of faith it promotes. And I’m certainly not up on all the nuances and distinctions of what the emergent movement is or isn’t (what’s emergent vs. emerging, for example?). So I’m not looking for predictions or pronouncements on this question. But criticism and bickering aside about the supposed validity or theological soundness of emergent’s aforementioned nuances and distinctions, this is the first sound proposition I’ve heard that emergent is a passing phase, though one currently seeming to hit its stride.

What do you think? Are Dave and Charles’ assessments omitting something important? Or is emergent the right thing for right now, but not so much for, say, 25 years from now?

  1. May 27, 2009 at 10:25 am

    I found this post at random, and couldn’t refrain from comment.

    So long as the emergent/-ing church (distinctions between emergent/-ing are virtually non-existent) strives to adapt itself to cultural trends (whether for good or ill), they will continue to have a relevant voice to both the churched, un-churched and what some call the “de-churched” (those who leave the church). However, with the current endeavors toward missional communities, it may be that more traditional churches will be influenced by emerging churches and expand their efforts to reach people’s needs. By that same token, the emerging church movement is often characterized as a “conversation” (cf. Brian Mclaren) within the overall evangelical movement; I’m not sure you’d find many who’d object to it being characterized as a transitional movement.

    I appreciate your thoughts. I myself am new to blogging, though I’m gradually posting a series on changing generations on my own blog.

    Chris Wiles

  2. saradode
    May 27, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Is it/should it be really about whether one particular “movement” or set of ideas is valid or permanent, or if it will “catch on”? I personally find that many of the concepts of the “Emergent Movement” resonate with me, but that is because of what my much more abiding and personal and subjective spiritual experiences and feelings have been–in other words, the latter validates some of the former for me; I don’t base my relationship with God on any one set of “ideas”.

    For me, the experience of God is not about a set of doctrines–even the ones that feel “right” to me. (Of course, I realize that what I just said smacks of Emergent ideas, but I assure you that the relationship and personal experiences came well before I even knew that there was much beyond all the old Christian dogma that I’d always pretty much taken for granted.) What I’ve subsequently read has only served to give some affirmation to what I’d already felt in a very strong, satisfying (beyond satisfying), personal way.

    If the “movement” doesn’t last, so be it. Maybe it will have at least gotten some people to see beyond conventional dogma and get a glimpse of God beyond the boxes. But, whatever happens, my own understanding and love of God and of Jesus’ teachings about love, compassion, and the part of God that lives within us will remain and influence the way I live every day.

    And I’m not even a Christian!

    Thanks for the post,


  3. May 29, 2009 at 8:48 am

    i think there may be something to be said for the difficulties and proclivities of “doing church” based on sociological trends and factors (afterall, church in some way is about people, right? i suppose some might argue that with me, but compositionally, it concerns what happens with “gathered people”)…the uneasiness comes after i say to this: so what?

    so what if “emergent”/”emerging” church is gathering people who are leaving church? is it a given that we are destined to un-church-ness? if there weren’t churches seeking to reach people moving away from traditional church, wouldn’t those in church want someone to reach out to them?

    it all sounds like it could be a little disingenous…like they are jealous that emergent/emerging church is getting its 15-minutes-of-fame; although, knowing dave and charles a bit, it could also be a genuine look and assessment (and addition to the huge conversation going on re: emerging church) into whether emergent/emgering church is the next reformation, as some have called it – or like phyllis tickle calls it, fundamental change, that will spawn even more, yet differentiated, demoninations, but putting new language on it like “partnerships” or “networks” or “insert-your-own-catch-phrase-from-socio-economic-theory”

    i do think charles emphasizes his gifted insight and evangelistic-oriented gifting to bound-and-frame his comments toward going beyond mere emerging church and going into the growing “post-christian box”, as he puts it…

  4. May 29, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Great comments everyone. Chris, I agree with your thought that adaptability is one of the saving strengths of the emergent movement. For whatever reason I often find myself skeptical of the balance between “seeker sensitive” and “missional”. I think an outward focus is key to the success or growth of any Christian movement (and its integrity), but I just haven’t seen churches lately who are actually engaging unchurched folks. Boy can they draw another church’s crowd though!

    Sara I enjoy your perspective as someone outside of Christianity who seems very familiar with it. Your blog is particularly intriguing too. And I agree – boo to dogma and surfing for the “next big thing”. If I could start a church it would be about helping people discover Jesus as bigger than their boxes and seeing how he changes lives in that context. That’s one reason I respect the emergent movement is for its focus on deconstructing dogma and majoring on conversation. Who wants to hear preaching on “6 [more] steps to really really knowing God”?

    Steven I think you picked up on what I was considering while I wrote this post – whether emergent is the next reformation comparable to the genesis of Protestantism. It’s an impossible thing to predict of course, but I for one feel like I’ve been looking for whatever that reformation is since I was in college. Perhaps emergent and “post-Christianity” are playing a part.

  5. saradode
    May 29, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Thanks, Jonathan (and I’m glad you enjoyed the blog).

    If you ever get to start your church, let me know 🙂 )


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