There is a movement of church work called the emergent church that I have been in close contact with but never an official part of. I have friends in it, read the books and seen the models. It all looks so familiar to the buzz of church growth stuff in the 1980s. With churches trying to reach the “emerging” boomers, change had to happen. We had people like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren who early in that decade made their mark and began the movement for “seeker-friendly” and “seeker-targeted churches.” Many copies of these models brought mega-churches to suburban boomers and their kids. The Warren’s and Hybels were preceded in the 1970s with the likes of Chuck Smith, who paved the way for them. In the 1990s there were rumblings of the next thing. What would the Buster generation come up with that would shape the church? The pace of the Willow-Saddleback movements overshadowed that from happening. By the end of the decade, we began to see postmodernism in many books and the emerging church swing into gear. Instead of birthing mega-churches, these churches were more like boutiques and in urban areas. The bland taste of mega-church propelled media-savvy busters to react and reach their peers and younger.
What we have left today is a reaction to the traditional mainline church (1970s & 1980s) and an echo to that reaction (1990s & 2000s). The boomers brought in rock music and corporate business practices and the next guys reacted to that by adding in liturgical worship and tattoos. Cool websites and tasty coffee are the norm with even free wi-fi hotspots in some churches. We have gone from one style in a church now, to what I think represents the settling point: the hybrid church.
The hybrid church structures itself to transcend geographical and generational issues. This “post-postmodern” church has a postmodern service and community for younger types and the same for older folks. It may even have a worship service and presence in other parts of town or even the next town over. This church is more multigenerational than intergenerational and is a mega-church where you can actually know someone. The hybrid church has to contend with the history and forms of the past, while not entirely eliminating them. It has to think in both directions–past and future. The past is there to remind the church that its older folks are crucial people, while future thinking realizes that the church will not survive without the baton being passed. Check out what is going in in the multi-site movement. or more here.
What I see is that the issue of change is here forever. We do not have time to document and index the current church. Here are some thoughts from Mark Oestreicher, a thoughtful blogger and leader in the emergent movement:
is the emerging church having a love affair with transitioning? here’s what i mean. for most (certainly not all), the original impetus for the emerging church has been a reaction away from things about the church we thought needed course re-alignment, or change. for most (certainly not all), this was a reaction to the shift within evangelicalism toward a more bounded set (rather than centered set) of beliefs and practices (this wording, which i originally got from tony jones, is developed extensively in frost and hirsch’s book, the shaping of things to come). any post-something reaction, of course, moves one into a period of transition. this is normal and good (or at least ok). this is how change occurs. but the transition has to lead somewhere. (Read more)
I believe that the future is indeed change and constant change. The culture we live in is not settled nor do I think it will be in my lifetime. We have those early-adopter types that Mark hangs out with and that I have kinship with. Now, we have a greater number of leaders waking up to the fact that churches close their doors every day here in America. The ones that change have a chance. Thus, the hybrid church seems to be an answer for those existing churches desiring a missional stance and relevance today.