Missional Church: more a theological (re)discovery, less a strategy for parish development.

by Edward Prebble

Date added: 23/09/2016

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Missional Church: more a theological (re)discovery, less a strategy for parish development.

 Edward Prebble

This article was first published in Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review 46, no. 2 (Nov 2014). This article is based on a chapter of Edward's PhD thesis from Waikato Management School, entitled Invigorating the Church for Mission: Action Research with Local Parishes, available at http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/handle/10289/6769

In the 1990s and especially since the turn of the century, the concept of Missional Church has become very influential, and much discussed.  It has been described by Conder[1] as the latest buzz-word for church strategists.  There are numerous books and articles discussing the concept, both academic and more general, and it is now very common for seminaries and bible colleges to include courses on the subject.

While it may be fair to call Missional Church a “buzz-word”, it is appropriate to see a distinction between this term (and what it represents), and numerous other buzz-words that have preceded it, such as Church Growth, Healthy Churches, Purpose-Driven Churches, or the Emerging Church.  The distinction, I will argue, lies in the way the word “church” is used and understood.  Many of the earlier terms discuss the church principally as the local gathering/congregation/parish, and their proponents devote much energy on developing strategies to make local churches and their associated ministries more “effective”[2].  Missional church on the other hand is best understood as a theological concept, and only secondarily as applying to a particular local gathering.  Hirsh[3] puts this distinction well in a discussion of the two terms emerging church and missional church.  He sees the first as a renewal movement attempting to contextualise Christianity for a postmodern generation.  The second is a way of rethinking the theology of the church in terms of the mission of God. 

The distinction between uses of the word “church” is related to a gradual change in thinking and writing about organised Christianity in recent decades, and a progressive move away from emphasis on church as an institution, and concern about how to strengthen or even save that institution[4], and towards an interest in the people who make it up, especially in relation to their understanding of being part of the Mission of God.  This article will explore several different ways in which the word “church” may be used, then use that discussion to inform an adequate understanding of “Missional Church”, in particular by contrasting it with a somewhat older, but still current term, “Emerging Church”.

Uses of the word “church”

The word “church” is used in at least six quite distinct senses both in regular religious parlance and in literature about gatherings of Christians. As with many typologies, these senses do overlap and it is frequently difficult to be precise as to which sense is being used.  Three common uses of the word “church” have little direct relevance to this discussion, but are worth acknowledging in passing.

The concept of Church as a building is one of the most common use of the word.  The great majority of local congregations are associated with a particular building, and may take their name from it.  It is not uncommon for congregations to express some discomfort with this use of the word ‘church’, and to name their buildings slightly differently, for example as a “mission centre” or even as a “church centre”.  In this way they attempt to indicate that “church” refers primarily to the people, not the building.  An interesting New Zealand example of this comes from Christchurch after the earthquakes; several churches placed billboards outside their ruined buildings with the slogan: Our building is munted – the church is doing fine!

An important, but very restricted sense of the word is church as ordained leadership meaning primarily the clergy, but including religious and, perhaps, some senior lay employees of the church.  The word is mostly used in this sense informally, such as talking about people becoming ordained by saying they are “entering the church”, when, by most other uses of the word, they have been members of the church as lay people for many years. 

The wider national, and often international, grouping to which a local church belongs leads to a third sense – church as denomination.  The nature, purpose and structure of denominations is a significant area of study in itself.  Even to attempt a definition is a very complex task, as various denominations locate their primary identity at a more international (the Roman Catholic Church) or a more local (congregational churches) level.  But the national structure or denomination is, along with the local congregation, the primary way in which the theological ideal discussed below is expressed institutionally, and it is here that actual and potential tensions between the good news of Jesus Christ and the institutional realities of the organised church are played out. 

Three other uses of the word “church” require more detailed discussion to illustrate the implications of the term Missional Church.

Church as a generality, or as a theological concept.

When “the church” is being spoken of in theological discourse the term normally refers to Christianity in general, or to the entire body of Christian people, in all countries and across all history, sometimes referred to as the church universal[5].  It can be assumed that when Jesus said “I will build my church”, it was this wider sense that he had in mind, rather than church buildings or positions in the church hierarchy.

There is a theological assumption behind the great majority of Christian thought, which is that the church, in both this broad sense, and the more specific senses that stem from it, has a life and identity above and beyond its members and their contributions.  In other words, the church “exists”; it is a “thing” that has attributes and has the ability to function.  This assumption is reflected in a number of famous hymns, notably:

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,

She is his new creation, by water and the word.

Those words of course reflect the rather romanticised attitudes of the Victorian period in which they are written.  A much more recent expression of a similar sentiment comes from the pen of a former Anglican Archbishop of New Zealand: 

The church must seek to model in its own life the values of the Kingdom, uphold Christian moral principles, expose injustice and evil, and repent of its own failures.  It must seek to live as God's caring, compassionate, servant people, and constantly remind those outside the church that only God can redeem....And it must constantly return to the source of its life and renewal, its vision and power[6].

Unfortunately, talking about the church in such terms can obscure the need for human actions to take place if the church were to do what the Archbishop was advocating.  The insights of various critical approaches, such as social constructionism, help to keep the focus on what actual people do and say, rather than to “reify” organisations, by ascribing to them the ability to function as if they were intentional creatures.  However, that approach must sit in some tension with a theological perspective, which consistently uses strongly reified language when discussing the church.

The tension between a focus on the actions of people and the ‘actions’ of a reified church is related to a further paradox, in that while the institutional manifestations of the church typically offer the only ways in which it can readily be observed, studied or “joined”, the church’s influence stretches well beyond those organisational forms.  As Archbishop William Temple observed[7], nine-tenths of the work of the Church in the world is done by Christian people fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which, in themselves, are not part of the official system of the church at all. 

The local church, congregation or parish.

It can be argued that the local church is the primary expression of the theological idea of church, as dioceses, denominations and national church structures would not exist without them.  As Church of England vicar, Richard Impey puts it[8], “There is no way you can discover a church's shared ministry without the  cooperation of a particular local church, for this is the only form in which it [ie the church] exists.”

Given that the root meaning of the word ‘church’, or  ἐκκλησία, is a gathering of people, it is natural that teaching about the church is frequently interpreted and applied at the level of the local gathering of Christians.  The shape, organisational characteristics and theological emphases of particular gatherings have varied enormously over the centuries, and continue to do so in the present, but local gatherings of all shades are routinely regarded as expressions of what Jesus was referring to when he said, “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.[9]

It may be quite meaningful, when ‘church’ is being used in the above general theological sense to discuss it in reified terms, for example: “The task of the church is to be a witness to the resurrection”.  When local churches or parishes are spoken of in such a way, however, it shifts the emphasis onto the organisational entity.  Attention, therefore, shifts away from the members of the church, the only ones who are capable of acting and changing – either themselves or their processes. 

Church in a “verbal” sense

In their discussion of the Episcopal Church in the USA, Sachs and Holland[10] argue that Christianity is more than abstractly understood doctrines; it is a set of practices conducted by communities of people in the context of their localities. This observation suggests that rather than (or perhaps as a complement to) any of the uses of the word ‘church’ outlined above, the word could best be understood in a verbal sense, denoting the collective actions of Christian people, working together to follow the teachings of Christ. Anabaptist theologian Stuart Murray[11] is one who suggests using ‘church’ as a verb, in the context of discussing Christianity in a post Christendom context. 

Used in a verbal sense, the word refers to groups of people who commit to organising themselves around a range of Christian activities such as worship, pastoral care,  and mission.  Nancy Ammerman[12] argued persuasively that the study of churches can perhaps best be seen as the study of religious narratives, the products of “...ongoing interaction, both among the diverse human participants in the drama and between them and whatever unpredictable sacred experience they recognise in their midst”.

This use of church in a verbal sense should be differentiated from an increasingly common phrase “doing church”.  This term gained considerable currency in literature on successful, large churches, especially in the USA, and tended to refer to techniques and strategies for making churches more effective or efficient[13].  More recently, the term has been used frequently in the UK and other countries in discussions of various new initiatives, officially referred to as Fresh Expressions, which have been commonly described as “new ways of doing church”[14].  Use of the phrase “doing church” has led to concern that an exclusive focus on actions, activities and even the honoured theological concept praxis can result in a sterile form of Christianity, divorced from its theological and worship-oriented foundations. Indian Anglican scholar C. Duraisingh, for example[15], argues that we distort the very essence and the constitutive dynamic of the church if we see it as a series of activities which the church defines, shapes, and carries out; rather, the mission of the church is “... a way of being, a style of life, before it is expressed in specific and contextual responses”. In recent years, Fresh Expressions and similar initiatives are increasingly  described as fresh, new ways of being the church[16].

The point, then, of thinking of the word ‘church’ in verbal terms is not so much to emphasise the activities of church groups, important though they are, but to focus on the actual life together (both being and doing) of particular groups of Christian people in specific situations.

As theologians and other academics, church consultants, church leaders at every level, and Christians in their daily life and work reflect on their experience of church in all its senses, it is very common for trends and fashions to develop, designated by particular terms, or “buzz-words”.  I would argue that the writers who developed and popularised the term “Missional Church” were using the word “church” primarily in its general theological sense, and that as the term continues to be used, it is best to focus on that sense of the word.  This is shown partly by contrasting it with a slightly earlier “buzz-word”, the emerging church, which tends (with exceptions) to use the word “church” in a different sense.

The emerging church

There is a voluminous, and still increasing, literature in church circles through which authors and readers are generating discussions of a series of phenomena in church life in the decades before and after the turn of the 21st century, and usually called the emerging or emergent church.  These terms are notoriously difficult to define or even describe confidently.  John Drane[17]  likens the effort of defining the emerging church to wrestling with a jelly; that metaphor encourages caution in description, avoiding the kind of classification that traps these initiatives in artificial categories.

Taking appropriate care, therefore, a review of the literature allows the identification of four distinct but overlapping phenomena:

  1. The establishment of a large number of new churches, new congregations within existing parishes and specific outreach initiatives, in many parts of the world.  Many of these initiatives arise from a concern among leaders of traditional denominations to engage in a meaningful way with the changing contexts for their ministry, both within the church and (especially) in the lives of the people around them.
  2. A loose network of new churches, deeply influenced by postmodern and post-Christendom thinking, and motivated by anger and disillusionment with previous experiences of church, predominantly at the conservative evangelical end of the theological spectrum.  Drane[18] describes emergent churches as typically “fiercely independent, and often highly critical of those who remain within what they regard as the spiritually bankrupt Establishment”.
  3. Fresh Expressions of Church is the title of an officially sponsored movement by the Church of England and the Methodist Church in Britain to encourage new forms of church, relatively free from the constraints of traditional church structures.  By extension, it is applied to any new initiative to create church with a group or category of people hitherto largely uninvolved with organised Christianity.[19]
  4. A large number of individuals who align themselves to emerging church thinking as an ethos, rather than as a particular assembly or group of assemblies.  This is manifested in a wide array of magazines, websites, blogs and downloads, whose participants may be part of existing congregations, or may not be members of any church, new or old.

With many exceptions, there is a tendency for ‘emerging’ to be used either for the first category or in an umbrella way for all these developments.  ‘Emergent’ tends to be applied to the second group of churches, particularly those with links to the official organisation of that title in the USA.  With similar hesitation, and allowance for exceptions, ‘emergent’ is rather more associated with North American sources, and ‘emerging’ with British ones.  A number of writers[20]  have attempted to outline a difference in meaning of the two terms but I suggest that the differences are too subtle, and too inconsistently applied, to be of value to the present discussion.  I will use ‘emerging’ except when quoting from other writers.

One of the reasons why “the emerging church” is so difficult to describe is that many of its adherents, influenced as they are by postmodern thinking, are strongly resistant to any classificatory endeavours.  This is why it would be misleading to uses terms such as ‘movement’ here, except perhaps the officially sanctioned Fresh Expressions movement.  Keuss[21] refers to an anti-movement movement.  More appropriate terms seem to be conversation [22], milieu[23], or network[24] .

Whichever sense of the emerging church is under discussion, there is recognition that these developments are an attempt to respond to significant changes in the local, national and international contexts within which church members are active contributors.  Tim Conder[25], writing from a US evangelical perspective but sympathetic to the emerging church,  argues that Christians in developed countries are part of an ‘emergent culture’ by which he refers to a series of progressive changes from what were perceived to be a relatively stable series of institutions and mores into a period of transition.  ‘Emerging’ carries the implication that whatever new institutions and mores that might develop are not yet clear but that this is a period of dramatic, sometimes traumatic, change

These changes, as argued by church growth specialist Eddie Gibbs[26], English evangelical writer Rob Warner[27] and Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz[28], are so profound and far-reaching that church leaders, like leaders in legal, educational, medical, political and other fields, find themselves contemplating very significant changes in how things are or might be organised.  

Despite some critiques, outlined below, there does appear to be a consensus among religious writers that this series of developments is having positive effects on the church.  Bishop Stephen Croft[29], a team leader of the Fresh Expressions initiative, taking what he describes as a conservative view of a range of statistical information, credits that movement with the addition of some 75,000 adults and a similar number of children and teenagers to the attendance figures of the Church of England in the past 10 years, which is the equivalent of two average dioceses in terms of adults or seven dioceses in terms of children and youth.  English Psychology of Religion specialist Sara Savage[30] suggests that fresh expressions provide space for experimentation, discovery and new development to occur in a way that is much more difficult in the more traditional forms of church.  Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams used the term “mixed economy”[31] to refer to the respective strengths of the traditional parish system and the emerging church/fresh expressions.  He argued that new, experimental forms of church are typically “...where the unexpected growth happens, where the unlikely contacts are often made; where the Church is renewed (as it so often is) from the edges, not the centre”.

Characteristics of emerging churches

A number of commentators have assembled lists of common characteristics[32], or “marks”[33] of emerging churches, which include most of the following:

  • a minimalist and decentralised organisational structure, a willingness to experiment, and a tendency to prefer networks over traditional hierarchies and relationships over programs[34].
  • a flexible approach to theology, where re-thinking of theological doctrines and biblical traditions is welcomed and individual differences in belief are accepted as normative.[35]
  • an emphasis on socially, politically and environmentally just living.  Moody[36]  relates this to a “kingdom now” theology
  • a rediscovery of traditional spiritual practices, and the exploration of new ways to apply those practices in specific contexts.
  • a high value on creating communities built out of the creativity of those who are a part of each local body.  This is likely to include a renewed emphasis on the arts and music. 

Critiques of the emerging church

The literature reveals at least three critiques, either of emerging/emergent churches themselves or of the rhetoric and theology associated with them.  The first, of which Carson[37],  Hawtrey and Lunn[38],  and Mayhue[39] may be taken as representative examples, is an evangelical critique, arguing that by refusing to be tied to traditional evangelical expressions of theology ‘emergents’ have made unjustified compromises with theological orthodoxy.  A somewhat gentler version of this Evangelical critique is provided by Tilby[40], who suggests that in catering to a concern for comfort, gratification and instant comprehension that she sees endorsed by western culture, fresh expressions may produce a version of the gospel that apparently meets the need but fails to transform the culture. 

A number of British commentators, including Hull[41], Milbank[42] and Percy[43], have offered a pragmatic critique of emerging church thinking.  In the context of the Fresh Expressions movement, they question whether, for example, a prayer and music presentation in a coffee bar, or a new initiative providing shelter, food and counselling for street people, are sufficient to meet any established criteria of what constitutes “church”.  Percy charges[44] that the Fresh Expressions movement is a form of collusion with the post-institutionalism endemic in contemporary culture, that parish ministry is still the cutting edge, and that without the institution of the church, all we'll have left is multi-choice spirituality, individualism and innovation. 

A third type of critique could be called an ecclesiological one.  Van Gelder argues[45] that proponents of the emerging church have misunderstood a crucial theological point about the nature of the church.  He describes this conversation as part of an endless obsession with trying to discover strategies to help congregations become more effective or successful.  The problem, he argues, lies in attempting to define a congregation around what it does and, in this way, the “emerging church” is no different from what he calls the “corporate church”, an organisation whose intent is to accomplish something on behalf of God in the world.  He advocates, instead, a “missional church”, existing as a community that is missionary by nature, participating in God’s mission in the world.  It is in this  context that Hirsh[46] makes his already noted emphatic differentiation between the terms emerging church and missional church.  If the first is a renewal movement attempting to contextualise Christianity for a postmodern generation, the second is a way of rethinking the theology of the church in terms of the mission of God. 

In the work of many writers the two ideas “emerging church” and “missional church” have merged.  This is particularly true in the UK, where the language of “missional” or “mission-shaped” church is characteristic of most of the literature about Fresh Expressions.  Similarly, Bader-Saye[47] and Anderson[48] are examples of American commentators using the two terms almost interchangeably.  However the insights of Van Gelder and others encourage seeing “missional church” as a quite different type of expression from “emerging church”.

Missional church

Commentators differ as to the source of the word ‘missional’, though it is clear that its use was very rare before 1990 even if the ideas behind it can be traced back to the Scholastic theologians of medieval times.  What is accepted is that the very widespread use dates from the seminal book edited by Guder, entitled Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America[49].  Guder and his collaborators were part of a group of church leaders known as the Gospel and Our Culture Network, which had its origins in the work of former missionary Bishop, Lesslie Newbigin[50].    A central theme to Newbigin’s thinking is the theological concept of the Missio Dei.  In its medieval origins Missio Dei (God’s sending, or God’s mission) refers to the sending by God of the Holy Spirit, but in its more recent use, the term has came to signify the work of God calling and sending the church into the world to participate fully in God’s mission within the whole of creation.

The book produced by Guder and his colleagues significantly expanded the idea of the church as the mission of God, and applied it to the situation of churches as they approached the end of the millennium.  It proved highly influential.  A few years later in the Church of England, a report called Mission-Shaped Church[51], drawing heavily on both Newbigin and Guder et al, was presented to the General Synod.  This book made a similarly dramatic impact.  Its sales far exceeded any other Church of England official report ever published. 

The success on both sides of the Atlantic (and elsewhere) of books on the missional, or mission-shaped, church seem to stem from a widespread acceptance of the idea of seeing the church in terms of the mission of God.  This has been seen as a welcome contrast with more typical church thinking including thinking around “emerging church”, influenced as it had been by the notion that the church was an organisation that had, or needed to have, a mission.  This switch of thinking seems to invite the expression of pithy antitheses from a number of authors:

The church is not the goal of God's mission, but its instrument; that is the church is the means, not the end of God's purposes[52].

Missional churches, at their best, shift their focus from creating programmes that meet the needs of those within the building to equipping members to address the needs of those outside the building[53].

Is the Church (i.e. the agent of God’s mission) in danger of replacing the object of God’s mission (i.e. God’s kingdom) with its own objective (i.e. the proliferation of ‘churches’)?  Is it in danger of embarking upon a church-shaped mission rather than a kingdom-shaped mission?[54]

The church is not the fulfilment or flowering of mission.  The flowering of mission is the Kingdom; church is merely an agent.  Therefore, the mission cannot be attained merely by creating churches[55]

In terms of the discussion of the different uses of the word ‘church’, it is important to realise that the primary way in which the originators of missional church thinking and literature used the word was in its general, theological sense.  They were making a theological claim that is relevant to all gatherings of Christians at all times and everywhere.  Their thinking, of course, has application in particular contexts, but the focus of their approach, as Van Gelder & Zscheile[56] are at pains to point out, is not on discovering a new formula, model or strategy for organising parish life but on giving new emphasis to what they believe is a rather neglected theological principle, the church as an expression of the mission of God.  “Missional Church”, therefore, means primarily a way of reflecting on the whole church in its ideal terms.  Only secondarily should a particular expression of Christianity, such as a local parish, be thought of as “a missional church”. 

Despite the theological principle motivating the originators of missional church theorising, it is apparent that, among the avalanche of literature and resources that have been produced reflecting on “missional” themes, many writers are  using “missional church” as though it were yet another programme for organising and renewing local churches.  In other words, they emphasise  the use of “church” in its local, organisational sense, rather than as a theological concept.   Stetzer, with titles such as Planting Missional Churches[57], is a case in point, as is How to do Mission Action Planning[58], which describes a programme drawing heavily on business management thinking and relates to parishes as organisations that can be expected to respond well to a “tried and true” formula.  Glynis LaBarre’s work describing a particular approach called the Missional Church Learning Experience[59] does talk of local churches becoming “more missional”, but the discussion is premised on how to move the focus away from the local church’s welfare, and onto ways to facilitate God’s mission to the people around.

Characteristics of the missional church

Given the volume of writing about missional church in recent years it is not surprising that there is a wide range of opinion about how the term may be used. It is possible to discern some consensus among most writers around a number of themes.   These are, of course, in addition to the emphasis on the mission of God, already noted:

  1. An incarnational emphasis.  A missional approach implies a commitment to shape the life of the Christian community according to the cultural context in which it is placed[60].  It can be expected that such an incarnational commitment will lead to “concrete acts of solidarity and accompaniment”[61] or “an observable impact that contributes to the transformation of life and human relationships”[62].
  2. Consequently, an emphasis on the locality where the missional activity is taking place.  In other words, a missional approach will lead a group to concentrate on the local and particular, as mission in different parts of the world, or different parts of a city, will look very different.  LaBarre’s discussion of “Listening to our community”, and “Looking for potential mission partners in our community”[63] are typical of this approach.
  3. A way of organising that sees the communal life of the congregation as itself a missional activity.  Less emphasis is given to the individual’s personal spirituality and more to cultivating a welcoming, inclusive community of transformed relationships[64].
  4. Consequently, less emphasis on membership, with its tendency to create an us/them dynamic with those who do not ‘belong’ to the congregation[65].  McNeal notes, and advocates, a move away from what he calls the “church culture” (an emphasis on church membership and church participation) and towards spiritual formation or “life coaching for people”[66].
  5. A focus on spiritual practices, such as daily offices, observance of feast and fast days, rituals and liturgical vestments[67].  There has been a rediscovery of very old practices, applied in different ways in new contexts.  Bass[68]  and Butler Bass[69] have written extensively on the subject.  
  6. Working from the ‘edge’.  Roxburgh[70] and others have noted a sharp contrast with the traditional parish model, based in the ‘centre’ of the village.  As so much of what generates life, energy and direction for people in most neighbourhoods is generated outside of the church, the emphasis needs to come off managing programmes and getting people into them and go onto creating environments that foster interconnections and conversations among people.  Murray has similarly suggested[71] that if church members embrace situations where they are relatively powerless, more likely to be partners than patrons, and where most of their initiatives will foster empowerment, not dependency, they may be liberated to engage in holistic, sensitive and unapologetic contextual mission.

Why does all this matter? Why is it important which sense of the word “church” is being used?  If we see “church” only in terms of our local parish, then “missional church” is likely to be understood as the latest in a long series of strategic ideas for making our parish better, or more successful, or grow faster.   “Mission” can then very easily be equated with evangelism; the church may then follow one of a range of programmes designed to make the recruiting of new members the primary driving force of the parish’s life.  The survival or the health of the church becomes the primary occupation, resulting in, to repeat Moody’s phrase[72], a church-shaped mission, rather than a mission-shaped church.  Such a local church will have missed the point of an important theological rediscovery.  The church is missional.  Being part of the mission of God is not an optional extra – it is who we are.  It makes no sense to decide to become “a missional church”, any more than it would to become “the body of Christ”.  But recognising, or rediscovering, that we are part of the mission of God requires us to place our attention where it should always have been, on the people around us.  It may allow us to lessen our preoccupation on the survival of the church, especially of our particular church, and find new ways of exploring what God’s mission means in our own rapidly changing contexts. 

[1] Cited in Tom Sine, The New Conspiritors: Creating the Future one Mustard Seed at a Time. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2008), 43.

[2] How various commentators define “effective” varies considerably according to their perspective.

[3] Alan Hirsch, "Defining missional: the word is everywhere, but where did it come from and what does it really mean?," Leadership (Carol Stream, IL) 29, no. 4 (2008): 22.

[4] The literature is replete with examples of books whose early chapters discuss the alarming decline of the church, as a background to and incentive for discussions about how to arrest or reverse the decline.  Two examples are: Albert L Winseman, Growing an Engaged Church: How to stop ‘dong church’ and start being the church again. New York, Gallup Press, 2006) and Richard Thomas,  Changing the way we think about membership and the Church. (London, SPCK, 2003).

[5] The generalisation I am making here may not be accepted equally in all traditions/denominations.  In Catholic thought, for example, there may be a very fine line between this general use of the word, and “church as a denomination” as above. But even if one sees the two as nearly synonymous,  there is value in drawing a distinction between “church” as a general theological idea, and “church” as a descriptor of an institution or organisation.

[6] Brian Davis, The Way Ahead. Anglican change & Prospect in New Zealand (Christchurch: The Caxton Press, 1995), 170 & 72.

[7] William Temple, Christianity and Social Order (London: Penguin Special, 1942), 39.

[8] Richard Impey, How to develop your local church: Working with the wisdom of the congregation (London: SPCK, 2010), xviii.

[9] It must be acknowledged that this takes Matthew 18:19 out of its context.  My point is that such a connection is very frequently made, and legitimately so.

[10] William Sachs and Thomas Holland, Restoring the Ties that Bind: The GrassRoots Transformation of the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Publishing Inc, 2003), 326.

[11] Stuart Murray, Church after Christendom (Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2004); "Post-Christendom, Post-Constantinian, Post-Christian…does the label matter?," Anabaptist Network, http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/506.

[12] Nancy T Ammerman, "Religious identities and religious institutions," in Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, ed. Michele Dillon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 223-24.

[13] W Cordeiro, Doing Church as a Team: The miracles of teamwork and how It transforms churches (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2004); G.A. Pritchard, Willow Creek seeker services: Evaluating a new way of doing church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1996).

[14] For example, Robin Gamble, "Mixed Economy: nice slogan or working reality?," in Evaluating Fresh Expressions, ed. Louise Nelstrop and Martyn Percy (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008), 16.

[15]C. Duraisingh, "From Church-Shaped Mission to Mission-Shaped Church," Anglican Theological Review 92, no. 1 (2010): 11.

[16]Stephen Croft, ed. Mission-shaped questions: Defining issues for today's church (London: Church House Publishing, 2008), 11.

[17] John Drane, "What does maturity in the emerging Church look like?," in Mission-shaped questions. Defining issues for today's church, ed. Stephen Croft (London: Church House Publishing, 2008), 90.

[18] John Drane,."The emerging church," International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 6, no. 1 (2006): 4.

[19] While the Fresh Expressions movement is somewhat different from the Emerging/Emergent Church, its proponents have been strongly influenced by EC thinking, and many generalisations about EC can be taken as applying equally to FE.

[20] e.g. Katharine Sarah Moody, "'I Hate Your Church; What I Want is My Kingdom': Emerging Spiritualities in the UK Emerging Church Milieu," Expository Times 121, no. 10 (2010).

[21] J. Keuss, "The emergent church and neo-correlational theology after Tillich, Schleiermacher and Browning," Scottish Journal of Theology 61, no. 4 (2008): 44.

[22] J. Moritz, "Beyond Strategy, Towards the Kingdom of God: The Post-Critical Reconstructionist Mission of the Emerging Church," Dialog 47, no. 1 (2008).

[23] Moody, "'I Hate Your Church; What I Want is My Kingdom': Emerging Spiritualities in the UK Emerging Church Milieu." Expository Times 121, no. 10 (2010): 496

[24] Stephen Croft, "What counts as a fresh expression of church and who decides?," in Evaluating Fresh Expressions, ed. Louise Nelstrop and Martyn Percy (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008).

[25] Tim Conder, The Church in Transition. The Journey of Existing Churches into the Emerging Culture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).

[26] Eddie Gibbs, Churchmorph:  How megatrends are reshaping Christian communities (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009); Eddie Gibbs and Ian Coffee, Church next: Quantum changes in Christian ministry (Leicester: IVP, 2000).

[27] Rob Warner, 21st Century Church. Why radical change cannot wait. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1993).

[28] Stanley J Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).

[29] Stephen Croft, "Persuading Gamaliel: Helping the Anglo-Catholic tradition engage with Fresh Expressions of Church.," in Ancient Faith, Future Mission.  Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition, ed. Stephen Croft and Ian J Mobsby (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2009).

[30] Sara Savage, "Fresh expressions: The psychological gains and risks," in Evaluating Fresh Expressions, ed. Louise Nelstrop and Martyn Percy (Norwich: Canterbury, 2008).

[31] Rowan Williams, "Traditional and Emerging Church: extract from Presidential Address " in General Synod, York, July 2003 (2003).

[32] J. Keuss, “The emergent church”, K S Moody, "'I Hate Your Church”.

[33].N. Frambach, "Emerging Church Communities," The Clergy Journal 84, no. 4 (2008).

[34] Savage, Sara. "Fresh expressions”,  78.

[35] New Zealand emerging church commentator Steve Taylor) calls this “koru theology”, evoking the common New Zealand emblem of an unfolding fern frond. Steve Taylor, The Out of Bounds church? Learning to create a community of faith in a culture of change (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 48.

[36] K S Moody, "'I Hate Your Church” p. 498

[37] D A Carson, "The emerging church," Modern Reformation Magazine, "Faith a La Carte?" 14, no. 4 (2005).

[38] Kim Hawtrey and John Lunn, "The Emergent Church, Socio-Economics and Christian Mission," Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies 27, no. 2 (2010).

[39] Richard L Mayhue, " The Emerging Church: Generous Orthodoxy or General Obfuscation?," The Master's Seminary Journal (TMSJ) 17, no. 2 (2006).

[40] Angela Tilby, "What questions does Catholic ecclesiology pose for contemporary mission and fresh expressions?," in Mission-Shaped Questions: defining issues for today's Church, ed. Stephen Croft (London: Church House Publishing, 2008).

[41] John M Hull, Mission-shaped Church: A Theological Response (London: SCM, 2006); "Only one way to walk with God: Christian discipleship for new expressions of church," in Evaluating Fresh Expressions: explorations in emerging church, ed. Louise Nelstrop and Martyn Percy (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008).

[42] John Milbank, "Stale Expressions: the Management-shaped Church," Studies in Christian Ethics 21, no. 1 (2008).

[43] Martyn Percy, "Old tricks for new dogs? A critique of Fresh Expressions," in Evaluating Fresh Expressions, ed. Louise Nelstrop and Martyn Percy (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008).

[44] Martyn Percy, "Old tricks for new dogs?” p.39.

[45] Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007); The Missional Church and Denominations: Helping Congregations Develop a Missional Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,, 2008).

[46] Hirsch, "Defining missional: the word is everywhere, but where did it come from and what does it really mean?," 22.

[47] Scott Bader-Saye, "improvising Church: an Introduction to the emerging church Conversation," International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 6, no. 1 (2006); "The Emergent matrix. (cover story)," Christian Century 121, no. 24 (2004).

[48] Ray S Anderson, An Emergent Theology for Emergent Churches (Downers Grove IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2006).

[49] Darrell L Guder, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America The Gospel and our Culture Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

[50] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989); Foolishness to the Greeks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986); The Other Side of 1984: Questions to the Churches (Geneva: Consul Oecumenique, 1983).

[51] Archbishops Council, Mission-shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004).

[52] Jim Kitchens, The Postmodern Parish: New Ministry for a New Era (Bethesda, ML: Alban Institute, 2003), p.75. emphasis in original

[53] Sine, The New Conspiritors: Creating the Future one Mustard Seed at a Time., 41.

[54] Moody, "'I Hate Your Church; What I Want is My Kingdom': Emerging Spiritualities in the UK Emerging Church Milieu," 496. emphasis in original

[55] Hull, Mission-shaped Church: A Theological Response, p. 2.

[56] Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile, The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping trends and shaping the conversation. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011).

[57] Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006).

[58] Mike Chew and Mark Ireland, How to do Mission Action Planning: A vision-centred approach (London: SPCK, 2009).

[59] Glynis LaBarre, Learning Mission, Living Mission: Churches that Work. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2012).

[60]  Archbishops Council, Mission-shaped Church., p81

[61] Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile, The Missional Church in Perspective: p115

[62] Walter C Hobbs, "Indicators of a Missional church," in Treasures in Clay Jars. Patterns in Missional Faithfulness, ed. Lois Y Barrett (Grand Rapids MI: Edrdmans, 2004), 171.

[63] Glynis LaBarre, Learning Mission, Living Mission: Churches that Work. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2012) p42-3.

[64] Archbishops Council, Mission-shaped Church., p82, Darrell L Guder, ed. Missional Church, ch.7.

[65] Darrell L Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000).

[66] Reggie McNeal, The Present Future:  Six Tough Questions for the Church (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 219.

[67] Alan J Roxburgh, Missional Map-making: Skills for leading in times of transition (San Fransisco: Josey Bass, 2010), 149.

[68] Dorothy C Bass, ed. Practicing our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998); Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C Bass, eds., Practicing Theology. Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).

[69] Dianna Butler Bass, The Practicing Congregation (Herndon: Alban Institute, 2004); Christianity for the Rest of Us:  How the Neighbourhood Church is Transforming the Faith (New York: Harper Collins, 2006); "On the Vitality of “re-traditioned” mainline Protestant Churches,"  http://www.resourcingchristianity.org/interview.aspx?INTID=92de0c24-03e6-410e-9b96-b8691b1be2a7.

[70] Alan J Roxburgh, Missional Map-making. 169-176

[71] Stuart Murray,.  Church after Christendom. 158

[72] Moody, "'I Hate Your Church; What I Want is My Kingdom': Emerging Spiritualities in the UK Emerging Church Milieu," Expository Times 121, no. 10 (2010): 496

Edward Prebble

Edward Prebble



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