Wednesday, May 14, 2008

To Everything There is a Season

As I was walking in the local mall today, I noticed that a rather large clothing retailer had closed their store there. As I thought about it, I remembered that the local newspaper had reported that this particular business had relocated to another (newer) shopping area in our community. They are not out of business, but they have moved to attract a different (perhaps larger) clientele. They are adapting to the times.

Nothing lasts forever. We talk a great deal about the future of the local church. Some congregations prosper in their present locations, but others relocate to "greener pastures." Some may merge with other congregations, some transition into ministry with a different group of people, some change their style of worship, and seem even choose to close their doors. The congregation that nurtured me as a youngster eventually sold the facilities to an ethnic church and merged with another congregation; the resulting congregation has prospered.

I have been reading The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones. I will post some specific comments about the book another time, but I was struck by the fact that many of the expressions of the so-called "emergent church" that the author describes live very tenuous lives. Many are in urban settings, often meeting in homes or in churches that have been abandoned by mainstream denominations. Their participants are often young, mobile, and still forming their faith commitments. I do not question that these are valid expressions of the body of Christ, but I do wonder how many of them will survive for a decade or more.

What difference does it make? The key lesson for me as a believer is that local congregations and emerging faith communities may survive or they may not, but the Church--catholic (universal) and eternal--will continue. The Church goes on. The way it is structured may change; the location may change; the liturgy may change. It may not look exactly like what we have experienced, but the Church will survive.

Our role is to be part of the Church and contribute to its ongoing ministry. The way we live that out is negotiable; the call to be do it is not negotiable.


Danny said...

We have a young couple visiting our church who moved from Kansas City and were part of an emergent church. It got me thinking more about it and I checked out the emergent village website. It seems like "cohorts" are disenfranchised with the institutional church.

I don't know a whole lot more about it, but do wonder as you do about their future. That might not be the most important feature of the movement.

Ircel said...

Cohorts tend to be "conversation" groups in a geographic area who gather (either at a coffeshop or a bar) for fellowship and theological discussion. They tend to draw people who are involved in many different churches including some mainline ones.

There are emergent churches (although they may call themselves "faith communities") that meet for worship, study, etc. Some are large groups (like "Solomon's Porch" in Minneapolis) and some are more house churches like "The Story" in Nashville (a group TCBF is partnering with).

Because of their spontaneous development, the transient nature of their participants, and their mobilty (when it comes to meeting space), their roots are not deep, so their survival is up for grabs.

At the same time, how many of the first century churches in Palestine, Asia Minor, etc., survived past the first century?

Rex Miller said...

Excellent perspective. We are also seeing city planners, churches and others coming back into once dead communities with renewal and restoration. A restored old thing can often be far more valuable than a brand new thing because it has a story to tell if restored with love.


Ircel said...

When new faith groups move into older structures, they may make some internal changes, but they tend to show respect for the building and perceive it as "sacred space." What a wonderful way to honor the past while moving into the future.