Monday, August 06, 2007,9:55 AM
Emerging Church Demographics
To address a question from one of the comments below. Is the emerging church just a generational thing? Is it just something for young people?

When the first stirrings of what has turned into the emerging church began, it was just about generational ministry. It was obvious that the church was missing an entire generation (which implied that the next generation would be missing as well). So people began to ask why Gen Xers had left the church and what it would take to bring them back. As usually occurs with such strategic plans, the initial answers were surfacy. Change the style of church to be relevant to that demographic. So churches abandoned the choirs and organs of the grandparents, the praise bands of the boomers, and went alternative. They added coffee and candles, brought art back into the church, and re-introduced liturgy to the low church. It helped bring some Xers back in, and really pissed off a lot of Boomers and older folks that church wasn't being done the way they liked anymore. Since when church becomes all about what one particular demographic likes it becomes about consuming a commodity and not about being the body of Christ. So went the ongoing worship wars that divided churches into generational clubs based on personal "worship" preferences. It wasn't intergenerational. It was selfish. And yes some "emerging churches" stayed in this realm and are just about relevant worship. Others perhaps get labeled that, but are really much much more.

But some of the initial voices in the EC soon realized that there was a greater cultural shift occurring in our culture. People were moving from the dominant philosophy of modernism to the dominant philosophy of postmodernism. It wasn't about choosing the believe in such a thing, it was the general air that we were breathing - the culture that shaped who we were. Granted, higher percentages of younger people were more immersed in postmodern thought than older people, but it was a culturally pervasive thing. That made a lot of people think about how our assumptions about how we do church were influenced by our cultural philosophy. And then even to think about how our theologies were influenced by such philosophies. So yes, church eccessiology started to be questioned. The habits and trappings of church were questioned. And many began to take a historical perspective on the interpretation of scripture and examine how culture has influenced how we read the bible. Things started to change and it involved people of all generations.

So for example, in our small church plant we have representatives from 8 different decades (and aren't too heavy on the under 35 group either). Church isn't about reaching a certain demographic, but we still do things differently than many churches. We "worship" with hymns, praise choruses, art, dance, liturgy, lectio divina, walking labyrinths, and prayers of saints ancient and modern. We understand that the sermon is the least effective form of teaching. So we open the teaching time up to discussion. People ask questions, challenge interpretations, and contribute examples. So instead of the pastor contriving examples that generally work for middle age men (golf, sports, retirement plans...), the church becomes involved in understanding how the scriptures fit into their lives. "Elders" and intergenerational learning isn't contrived or hierarchical, but just part of what it means to all interact together and be a church family. Of course its not perfect and really freaks some people out. Some show up expecting to just sit, watch a show, and "be fed." We don't think that is what church is about at all. And apparently people of all ages seem to think similarly.

So yes, there are emerging churches that consist of college students being college students. Just like there are seeker sensitive churches full of Boomers and traditional churches full of the elderly. Then there are churches with people of all ages that look new and different. There are traditional mainline churches that are embracing emerging theology and worship ideas. For many it is about new way of doing church, exploring theology from a broader perspective, and being the church as opposed to having church imposed upon oneself. And it involves people of all ages. I would recommend that the stereotype of the EC being just for gen Xers be dropped, and people take the time to see what is occurring within this very diverse movement.

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posted by Julie at 9:55 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


8 Comments:


  • At 8/06/2007 12:55:00 PM, Blogger thechurchgeek

    It could be even bigger than that...

    I just finished listening to 'the nick and josh' podcast with Phylis Tickle, in which she frames the whole emerging movement in the context of a much larger reformation that is happening in our churches; something that happens about once every 500 years or so. She may be overstating her case, but its something worth considering...

     
  • At 8/06/2007 03:45:00 PM, Anonymous Don

    I didn't know whether to post this here or with "Motivation or Ridicule," so I am posting it both places. I hope that's OK.

    Thanks, Mike and Julie, for clarifying things. And I'm glad a lot of the emerging folks aren't embracing the error I thought we had made back in the late 1970s. Before we moved and left our former church, but after I was beginning to have doubts about things, a lay leader told us he and his wife were moving to a large Midwestern city (not Chicago) to start a ministry for gen-Xers. At the time I thought, how sad. If the church is the family of God, I reasoned, ought it not look like an extended family, with people of all ages?

    I read Diana Butler Bass' Christianity for the Rest of Us and was very encouraged. I talked to our pastor a few weeks ago about starting a "centering prayer" group in our congregation, but I haven't followed up on it yet. I hope there will be interest. A seminary intern had introduced the topic to one of our adult classes.

    Regarding leadership, I personally am glad that there's a leadership structure where we are now. To me it's a check and balance thing. I can understand why some are suspicious of "hierarchies," but after being burned by overbearing "elders," I think we need that structure ourselves. At least, as imperfect as it may be, there's a place we can go if we have a disagreement and can't get it resolved. And our relationship with God won't be called into question if we disagree with the leadership (something that happened to us before).

    God's peace to both of you!
    Don

     
  • At 8/07/2007 05:36:00 AM, Blogger Miss Welby

    ciao bella, nice blog, visit mine :)

     
  • At 8/07/2007 06:19:00 AM, Blogger paul

    thanks Julie, it is a helpful reminder that changes in cultural outlook/philosphy occur across generations and can free us to reimagine the tone of church as well as its form/functions.

     
  • At 8/07/2007 09:17:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Leadership is a tricky thing. In every church situation I have been a part of leadership was a power trip - a way to have one's way and control people. And when often youth and women are excluded from leadership, the needs of the majority of the church are ignored. It wasn't about being a family, it was about a small group playing control games.

     
  • At 8/07/2007 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous Don

    You are so right, Julie, especially your comment about excluding women. In our former church, women were not allowed to have leadership roles. I got called out because I allowed my wife to dare and approach an elder directly on her own. Never mind that the reason she approached him was because of the way she thought he had mistreated me.

    They would have vehemently denied that they were playing control games, but that is exactly what they were doing.

     
  • At 8/08/2007 08:48:00 AM, Anonymous Paul Walker

    Thanks for a great post Julie

    I've found that the American emerging church seems to have been rooted much more in GenX churches than here in the UK. Here in England, most of the emerging church came from post-Charismatic disillusionment - which meant that it wasn't so generational.

    Whilst it is inevitably true that you see a lot of 20's and 30's in emerging church / events, there will often be a much wider age spread - which is great! It sounds like your church has grasped that, and is able to blend together all sorts of ancient and modern stuff in a kind of 'church remix'. God bless you!

     
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