The web site you contacted a few days ago sent your questions over to me for another voice and some more input.
The good questions you ask are the same questions that I get constantly, though not usually from a church as huge and influential as yours.
I am Andrew Jones and I am a consultant for denominations and missions agencies regarding the emerging culture. One denomination calls me their "Post-modern Consultant" which is fine with me, although I prefer not to get boxed in by labels.
My comments do not necessarily reflect those of the web site. My words are sure to be more honest, ironic, and at my worst moments, sarcastic. But they come from a sincere desire to see the Kingdom of God downloaded into the hearts and minds and wounded lives of a generation that thirsts after him.
I am writing a longer response than I normally do, because I am writing a book emerging at over the next 2 weeks and want my writing to reflect real people and real issues, rather than what I want to write. Don’t worry - I will not mention the name of your church and I will call you Rob, instead of Steve Garnet, to protect your identity.
Let me try to answer your questions, regarding emerging church.
1. How is this new emerging church different in their expression of these values?
I believe the expression is always different for every generation, just as it has been for yours, and should be different if we are to keep the impact of the gospel the same and the worship meaningful. The expression needs to be appropriate and resonant for those expressing new life in Christ and those participating on the receiving end.
If the people are post-modern, then post-modern forms of expression (non-linear music, multi-media, liturgical forms, etc) are appropriate. If the people are modern, then bring out your best song leader and let everyone belt out some choruses or hymns. God likes both.
I believe the challenge is not to be modern, post-modern, or po-po-mo/emerging but rather to be APPROPRIATE, to empower the people of God to express themselves in the art forms and genres that are already a part of their world - give them the gospel in their own culture, teaching in their own language, worship with instruments they enjoy. Let them use words that emerge deep from their spirits in the forms that carry the meaning and mystery and depth. And we need to cease requiring them to run their expressions through a modern processor so that it can come out in a 3 point sermon or a cheesy poem or a 5 minute Christian jingle .
If we are striving for something, let us not focus on a particular expression of culture (post-modern, for example) but rather people. God has not called us to minister to post-modern people. He has call us to minister to people - for me to bless Mat and you to bless Mike and Mike's family and their brother-in-law and his girlfriend.
If we make ministry and its consequent forms to be people-appropriate the we will succeed every time. If we aim at a culture, even if we hit it, we will be missing it as soon as the culture changes or the people who wear that culture change.
I have watched churches and services build themselves around either culture (club/alternative/punk/rave) or age (youth/20 somethings) and then grind to a halt when the people they were serving moved on culturally or got older or had kids.
We should build churches and services around people. Start with them. Let them throw the party. Ask ourselves "What can we do to support, nurture, bless and water what God is doing in their life"
2. How does a church like [ours] reach this post modern generation?
The first place to start is to stop using military/advertising terminology to describe something that they see as highly relational, deeply intimate and mysteriously wonderful.
I have images of you coming out of the Army surplus store, dressed like Rambo. Don't tell me you use the word "Target Group" also!
Dude, the war is hasn't started yet. But it might start any day, and words like that make us sound threatening to people who don’t understand the ways of the Kingdom.
Your church has "cells", doesn't it?
Dang, those words really have to change.
When the language of the modern world (military, business, economics, science, advertising) is employed for spiritual uses, it can often carry overtones of conquest, colonization, and reduction of people into numbers or statistics.
Young people don’t want to be reached. They are nobody's target.
But I get what you are saying. Reaching out to people who are lost. That’s cool.
The basics don’t change. We love people, incarnate the good news of the Jesus Christ, dispense the power of God, interpret stories, baptise new followers and teach them to obey.
What we did before (or were supposed to be doing) has not changed. These principles will work in 20 years just as they did 200 years ago.
But we are coming out of a period - the flourishment of Christianity under The Enlightenment - of many successes (reading the Bible for ourselves, establishment of schools and hospitals) and many failures (religious wars, abuse of environment, fundamentalism, Marilyn Manson). These failures are close to home, especially to young North Americans, and we need to tread carefully around the wounds, practise evangelism in a minor key, help to correct misunderstandings and heal brokenness where we find it.
How do we do it??
If you really love the people God has brought into your care, you will help them find a way for their friends to enter in to that new life and receive all the gifts that God has for them.
If you really love your people, then you will spend time with them, hear their stories, feel their pain, watch their movies, and you will be able to bring the word of God to them in ways that connect on a deep and meaningful level, with words that are rightly chosen, with art that can sufficiently carry the weight of glory and impact that God intends.
That is what counts. Whether it is post-modern or not, honestly, who really cares?
3. Start another service for them to have ownership over?
No! Many churches do this (I did this when I was a pastor) and I think it is a bad idea. If a new service is going to happen successfully, it will be because they started it themselves from the very beginning and had personal involvement in every stage of the planning. If ownership does not start from the beginning, it will be half-baked and may never come about, forcing you to employ some loser-geek from Seminary who can maintain the service long enough to keep the deacons off your back. Sound like fun? I don’t think so either.
Ask yourself this question: Why would your young people want to run an institution that somebody else started when they can throw their own party? Let those who make the bed, lie in it.
If someone needs to start a service, and I am not necessarily recommending it, then let the young people do it themselves, with you or someone to guide them (let the older teach the younger) and interpret what they are doing back to the church. Allowing the young people this much ownership also carries the risk that what they come up with may be different than what you envision will happen. They may choose a home or club over the church building. They may choose a meal over a meeting, an open mike over a monologue, a rave-based event rather than a rock-based event, and that may be hard for your committees to swallow. Your youth pastor's job will be to interpret backwards to the church members and be a bridge.
The READY-MADE EXCELLENT SERVICE STRATEGY used to work in the 1980's, when hyper-moderns and yuppies demanded excellent products, and wanted someone to create a service that would reflect those values and 'service' their needs.
But the emerging culture would rather have something they are involved in creating, a work in progress, even if it isn't very good, than a hand-me-down in perfect condition.
Honestly, if it is not theirs to start with, it will take a lot of resources, time and guilt trips to get them attending (let alone running) a service that was decided by a committee of people that thought they were doing a good thing.
But, I understand the human dynamics of a big church, and how long it takes to transition, if indeed transition is even possible (or preferable - Jesus likes old wineskins also) and it may be that the first step is to have a service (worship "experience" is a better word) for them. If so, here are some thoughts:
Whatever you start has to be integrated into the fabric of the whole church.
Beware of the patch that washes off. Jesus didn’t think that the new patch on the old garment was a great idea. Personally. I have seen youth services and alternative services and post-modern services fail because of lack of integration or permission giving, or understanding.
Churches want to tell people they have a rockin' funky post-modern youth service. Young people, wanting to stay connected to the church family (and preferably not getting bored in the oldies service or cheesed in the contemporary service), might need a place to meet. Getting those two factors in bed together is the challenge.
Multi-media: Multi ways to abuse your artists.
I have also seen another evil under the sun. The abuse of artists and creatives for the sake of building a cool worship service. Creatives are used like outboard motors - we strap them on to the stage to drive the service in a funkier, more artistic manner, providing a show that we think will attract creative, post-modern people. But those people notice how the artists are made servants to the preacher, their art subject to the sermon, in a form of ecclesiastical colonialism, and they don’t come back. The artists themselves also leave, feeling used and bearing scars.
Ask not what your artists can do for your service, but what you can do for your artists.
Maybe helping your artists set up their own exhibition and inviting their friends will be of greater consequence for the Kingdom than squeezing their art in between the sermon and the offering.
4. Plant a church here in _____ with a younger anointed leader at some community center or large home?
Dude - I think you are hitting on something here. If you could only do one thing - do this. Help your young people start churches and bless them all the way through the process. It is far more effective than keeping it centralised and adding more services to your program. Multiply your ministry, don’t just add.
Why not 10 leaders starting 10 churches. Or 100 leaders starting 100 churches? "Scatter your seed to 7, even to 8, because you do not know which one will succeed." So says the Proverb.
Also, think about multiple leaders rather than the Big Man. The idea of leadership is thought of differently in the emerging culture. Generally speaking, a single leader is suspect, as well as being a canditate for either burnout or leading a cult. A group of leaders working in harmony will gain trust, and can minister better as a team. Yes, there will always be one leader who will have more to say, a first among equals, but that role may change through the growing process and one person who leads at one stage (gathering a crowd) give way to the next leader - think of it as tag-team leadership.
Teams are good. "A cord of three strands is not easily broken."
Go back to the Scriptures and you wont see single leader churches - you WILL find multiple elders. Would your church have a problem with you using the Scriptures to build an ecclesiastic structure like my post-modern friends are doing? Or do you think they would rather stay with church principles from Peter Drucker and keep their Bibles for their quiet times?
(Thats me being sarcastic and yet not repentant)
5. Keep them in the service…turn the lights down…light 100 candles…play a Gregorian chant CD…and recite liturgy?
You know what? Keeping them in the service sounds like a joke and might fly in the face of conventional thinking but it may be one path that very few people (except the Roman Catholics and Orthodox) have followed. The youth service may turn out to be a modern invention of seperation and disunity. Keeping everyone in may work . . . if their spirituality is not defined by the worship service in the same way as it was for boomers.
Also, I met a cool group of DJ's and artists in Dallas who told me they were staying at their old boring church and did not want to be a seperate identity. Sign of things to come?
Some of the extremely post-modern believers I know do not attend GenX/pomo/alt.worship/whatever services. Either they do not attend a "service" or they just go to the church where they feel at home, where they know people, where they are connected, even if it i the lamest service in the world.
Because they do not view the church as a distributor of good and services, or a provider of Hollywood style services.
They will put up with a lame service because relationships count more than performance on stage.
And if they are really creative, which most of them are, they don’t need a stage show to get them into the presence of God. They can enter in whenever they want and do so, sometimes, in spite of the worship service.
Which means that the ministry of the pastor has more to do with loving people than putting on a show.
Which brings me to my final word of encouragement:
LOVE YOUR PEOPLE.
That's where its at. Even in the post-modern world. Especially in the post-modern world
Lets keep the conversation going.
God bless you,