Emerging and European: how significant are the experiments of the 1980 and 90s?

Just been trying to find out a bit more about the history of Emerging/Emergent Church whilst I’ve been updating several lectures for Redcliffe’s European Studies programme. I became a Baptist minister in 1989 and have seen a few things come around in the twenty years since. I also collect too many books and thought I’d get some out and try to remember what I heard some of their authors say at the time.

The issue I have is that the short-list of emergent histories (mainly blogs – like this one!) mostly discusses it with reference to what was going on in the USA. They mostly overlook the missionary/missional shifts in congregational thinking going on in a number of European centres. Of course, the major mistake that Europeans made (according to some emerging leaders) was to believe that something new might emerge out of established church traditions and remain closely identified with those traditions in some instance.

Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) traces the explosion of the term to 2001 although he mentions a book written in 1970 called The Emerging Church (and later used by Dan Kimball as the title of his 2003 book). He’s very frustrating when he writes in a 2007 blog that in 1988 he discovered that British models were far in advance of other continents and although he promised to write about it ‘another time’, I’ve yet to see what he would have written if that time had come.

The first reference I can find to its use in a European context is its appearance in the title of of a 1981 book by Johann Baptist Metz The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Postbourgeois World. Metz argued that Christian memory generates change, not only of the congregation but also of the surrounding world. In this way, the church was ’emergent’.

Robert Warren’s Being Human, Being Church (1995) where he outlines three chapters on ‘The Church in Emerging Mode’ including chapters on ‘Models’and ‘Marks’. The key for Warren was missionary/missional aligned with spirituality.

It’s also worth taking a look at what came out of the ‘Towards Missionary Congregations in a secularized Europe’  that kicked off in 1989 within the Conference of European Churches and the mission section of the World Council of Churches. The resultant process and book Hear what the Spirit says to the Churches (edited by Gerhard Linn, 1994) has a really organic feel and describes 25 congregations that were emerging during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A concluding phrase from Hear what the Spirit says.. says ‘And the result? The answer is simply: We do not know! We are still on the move.’ The sense of the church being in emerging mode is clear and undergirds the occasional use of the term throughout the book.

It seems that the contribution of European churches and mission leaders to the emerging church is a history that is waiting to be written; even if only an emerging and provisional history. Its contribution might also be to challenge the emerging consensus that emergent church can only ever be contained within totally new wineskins.

Explore posts in the same categories: emergent, emerging, europe

11 Comments on “Emerging and European: how significant are the experiments of the 1980 and 90s?”

  1. simon jones Says:

    I think it’s worth exploring the influence of Howard Snyder whose books – especially the Problem of Wineskins and the Community of the King – in the 1970s paved the way for a lot of the conversations that came to the fore in the late 1990s.
    He was a huge influence on my thinking – I also came into the ministry in 1989 – but I sense that his voice is a little dimmed now which is sad because he spoke a lot of sense.
    The other voice that has been influencial but is again not very prominent is Robert Banks, not his study of Paul which is widely quoted, but his book on the home church movement especially in Australia published in the early 1980s.
    The home church movement is one key strand that has contributed to emerging church practice if not the way emergent leaders theologise about what they’re doing.
    Good to see you blogging, by the way.


    • Simon, thanks for post. Hmmm – I think your final comment points to the questions I have about emerging ‘practice’ and ‘theologising’. If you allow that distinction to be drawn (and some might resist it) then your insight about the home church movement is valid in the European context. I’m not sure how that would be viewed in the US – others would know better.
      It’s also then possible to give ‘practice’ the lead again, especially given that the debate in the US now seems to focus around the theology. That’s why it’s important for Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Reformed, Lutherans, etc. to showcase their examples of practice and ask the question ‘Can what we are doing also be described as emerging?’
      A quick look back at the last thirty years seems to suggest that key impulses here in Europe would be missionary congregations, home church movements, neo-monasticism, and ‘alternative worship’. There are certainly others, which says something about the diverse nature of the subject.
      A historical approach would also be looking beyond the books written and trying to identify people and groups. That could be a lot of fun and is something that Pete Ward covers in part in some of what he writes about the evangelicalism of the late 20th century.
      Thanks for posting – we’ve still got lots to learn.

  2. andrew jones Says:

    hey, my wife would agree that i can be frustrating, and she should know

    i have over 2000 blog posts and its really hard to find stuff. let me know if you have specific questions and i would be more than happy to send some info your way

    peace. i was at redcliffe a few years ago. nice place.


  3. Darrell

    nowing Andrew and the folks he often relates to i think most folks would assume that the UK version of Emergent was the alternative worship movment and NOS would be the late 80’s thing that was so far in advance. worth noting that many fo thsoe fromt his background have adopted ’emerging church’ conscioulsy as their label. it was also this group who when Brian Mclaren hit the international scene pretty much said ‘ nothing new we said this 10 years ago’. trouble is apart form Post-Evangleical by Dave Tomlinson most of the material that was produced at that time if published was resource based. the theology got done in groups and most improtantly omn the ground at the Greenbelt Festival which still is the movments spiritual home. it is also here that there are soem direct links as some of the Emergent folks came over to Greenbelt in the late 90s to learn form what was going on.

  4. andrew jones Says:

    hi simon and steve – been a while, ay???

    simon is correct in saying the ec was influenced by house church, even more so in usa. wineskins book was influential to me back in early 90’s but even more so was the missiology from the third world, vintage roland allen, and baptists like david garrison whose work on church planting movements pointed to simple structures and thus our simple structures in usa and uk during the 90’s.

    steve is correct also in saying the alt. worship scene was the most influential ec movement and perhaps the forerunner in the uk, and that it was ahead of the usa which i can vouch for.
    but usa in the 80’s was probably ahead in experimental intentional communities and coffee house churches.

    Germany is a good place to look for 90’s experiments. you could start here at this post
    <a href="http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiwi/2007/05/emerging_church.html&quot;.

  5. andrew jones Says:

    “Of course, the major mistake that Europeans made (according to some emerging leaders) was to believe that something new might emerge out of established church traditions and remain closely identified with those traditions in some instance.”

    actually, much of ec literature (i have 200 books on the subject but they are in storage and lent out – i would be willing to allow a theological library to house them if they wanted – ec titles go back to late 60’s) focuses on the ec outside of traditional church but in fact, a large portion has happened inside the existing structure, both mission and church

    fresh expressions in uk is a good example, as is the work among Baptists in USA.

    this post might help in looking at how those experiments are now more acceptable in the mainstream – 10 types of emerging churches


  6. OK, so I learned several things today. First, add the term ’emerging’ to your blog posts and the site visits spike. Second, never use ‘He’s frustrating’ when it should be ‘It’s frustrating..’ Sorry Andrew :-). Oh yes, and third, you never know who’s out there and reading late at night. Last time I saw you Andrew was at CMS the day you were heading off over to the Continent in an ex-German Army tank, or something like that. Hope it went well – is going well.
    Thanks a bundle for all these responses though. Some of it confirms my own observations of mainstream activity (and Linn’s Hear What the Spirit Says.. is great in that regard.) and some of it suggests avenues for further exploration – now I just need a bit more time!
    The Greenbelt connection to Emergent was a really helpful prompt – thanks Steve and Andrew. The German scene has some interesting stuff around that I’m already aware of but thanks for the blog link, Andrew. We had a really interesting Berlin coffee-house type example show-cased here at our annual European Consultation in January.
    Andrew, if you’re serious about housing your books at a library I’d be more than happy to see if we can give them a good home for you.

  7. Steve Hollinghurst Says:

    nice to see the comments andrew – you are as ever with us virtually if potentially anywhere in the world physically ;o)

    i think one of the major differences of much ec in UK and US is that in UK most has been within denominations – though significantly not all – whereas in the US i think the situation is the other way round. needless to say there are of course all sorts of influences one could trace and these have drawn togehter people coming from very different places so i guess we need some caution too here.

  8. andrew jones Says:

    well said.

    and simon – i was the tall lanky guy in your church in bromley a month ago, if you dont remember.

    darrell – lets talk about books sometime. we are currently in north africa and not saying much right now but will be more vocal in the blogworld when we get back to europe. peace.


    • go safely, Andrew. Liked the ten-fold approach to emerging church on your blog – thanks for the head-up re. the link.
      Convinced there are some important historical threads worth investigating and writing up. I need to find a student keen on doing this.

  9. simon jones Says:

    Hey Andrew – yes, I remember you. Hope life’s good; come and see us agin.

    On influential thinkers I wonder about the impact of Vincent Donnovan’s Christianity Rediscovered and, of course, Lesslie Newbigin – both returning missionaries surveying the church scene in the their sending nations and concluding that there was much to learn from the contexts where they’d served as missionaries.

    As a local pastor in an inherited church, my frustration is that the model is broke; like Python’s parrot, it’s dead and only standing because it’s nailed to the perch. So something has to emerge to replace it. It is neither helping to strengthen existing attenders and encourage them into disicpleship nor reaching those who’ve never considered the Jesus story as the key to making of the world and their lives in it.
    Something new has to emerge – preferably soon. So all help, thinking, stories of good practice welcome.


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