Wednesday, March 01, 2006

letters from a dying church

The big challenge, in the next few years, will be to develop the stories of those emerging churches that work within existing churches. In the US, we have very few examples of these… Link.

Two and a half years ago it was my intuitive sense that the future would need models not only of emerging church plants, but of transitional churches in which emerging congregations could be birthed as part of existing churches. It was one of the (many) reasons I moved from planting an emerging church called Graceway, to move to an established church, Opawa Baptist, to do this very thing. The above quote suggests I might not perhaps be as mad as many at the time thought.

I did not come with an agenda and have been amazed with some of the things that have emerged; new congregations, new forms of mission and spiritual formation. (for more explanation go here.) As part of the transition, I started a new blog category; “re-imaging at Opawa.” I was stunned to check my archives last month and discover that it now has 114 entries. That’s over 23,000 words.

Three denominations have contacted me recently asking me to share the story. So I’m considering writing some resources, perhaps titled Letters from a dying [Western] church.

1. If you have a question about transitioning a church into postmodernity and seeing emerging churches from within existing churches, drop them in the comments and they might become gist in a “letter.”

2. If you would like to read a draft of each “letter” before it goes public, and so help me shape – theologically, missiologically, practically – each letter, drop me a line and I will be in touch.

3. If you are a publisher who is happy to participate in an shared public domain project, ie you will let me publish the letters on-line and I will let you publish them as a book, email me steve at emergentkiwi dot org dot nz

4. I’m working on a half-time liver, so I am not making any promises about how often these letters will appear. But I suspect there’s enough material lying around for me to start.

Posted by steve at 03:15 PM


  1. It was neat to read this tonight. This is essentially what we are doing – but not because our church is dying or anything, but because we want to enrich the tapestry of our current church, to lengthen its reach in our community. Anyway, I just thought you’d be interested to know that this is what we are doing with our “second service” that we are starting this fall. I’d love to hear the stories of those who have done just this (I’m a little late coming to the Emerging blog world so I’m sure this is redundant).

    Comment by Makeesha — March 1, 2006 @ 5:19 pm

  2. 1. Yes plenty.. two for starters:
    How do you go about communicating vision, should you explain carefully or just begin to practice and hope people will pick it up.

    How do you help the inherited side of the church deal with issues of cross cultural mission, especially as they meet new people or hear things about new peoples lifestyle.

    2. I would be happy to proof read and offer any comments.

    4. Hope you are improving all the time, your still in my prayers.

    Comment by Graham Doel — March 1, 2006 @ 11:28 pm

  3. 2 thoughts..

    1- obviously my ‘project’ is doing this at a denominational level, but 6months in there are already questions about how it is going to work longterm… in particular issues around finance, structures, authority etc. Can the ‘mother’ church let go?

    2- Unfortunately wherever I have seen this start as part of a local church it has not been sustainable long term… for very much the reasons evidenced in Ryan and Eddies book… (Traditional) Church leaders more often than not are happy to start things which they see as tools for growing the Church, when they realise that there is no through-put and/or issues of authority/leadership arise it becomes hard for the two to co-exist. Most of the instances I have witnessed end up with either the end of the new church or with it leaving and carrying on in it’s own right (sometimes with great pain).

    Comment by Mark Berry — March 1, 2006 @ 11:55 pm

  4. I’ll proff & help in any way.

    In terms of publishers, why not try:

    Comment by bob c — March 2, 2006 @ 10:17 am

  5. As an aside Steve, I’m doing the same thing as you know in Melbourne, but it has been interesting to be ‘dropped cold’ by many of the emerging church people here for trying to do this. It seems that their ecclesiology doesn’t incorporate ‘bringing something back from near death’. Besides, it isn’t very cool and po-mo! The high water-mark came the other week though when Forge wrote to me and asked our church to sponsor them! And I see now that they are trying to start a section aimed at transforming churches! No wonder I’m getting confused over here!

    Get better.

    Comment by Andy — March 2, 2006 @ 5:59 pm

  6. Andy, I would love to chat with you and bring you up to speed with the new stream at forge. Let’s set that coffee up!

    Comment by phil — March 2, 2006 @ 8:08 pm

  7. Hoping to do my final year research project on developing emerging church from institutional church settings (all be it from an Anglican perspective). Would love to help with the letters and it would help me with the research. Although my sphere of reference is not huge I know a good number of anglican ministers who have hold of the theology (not least because of NT Wright’s huge impact) and are now trying to work it through the current congregations and this seems to be the hard bit!

    Comment by Nigel — March 3, 2006 @ 4:32 am

  8. Steve, this sounds like a God-led project.

    I’m in a Presbyterian church in a small town where emerging ideas are barely on the radar screen. We have had exposure to and positive reception of Reggie McNeal’s presentation/book. People have the idea that something needs to change, but nobody’s prepared yet to think through what the ramifications would be for the whole Reform-flavored organism. I’d be interested in knowing how the thing begins to move in different church contexts. Does that make sense? Thank you so much for thinking and writing about this. Please pace yourself…

    Dana Ames
    Ukiah, California USA

    Comment by Dana Ames — March 3, 2006 @ 1:02 pm

  9. Following your link I have started having a read of “re-imaging at Opawa”, from the bottom up, and can’t help but feel that there is a book in all that (not that I am any expert) from the amazing journey the posts outline and also as a follow up to “out of Bounds”… the letters replacing the post cards…
    Full health first though!
    Thank you for all that you are being in what you are doing.

    Comment by Nigel — March 3, 2006 @ 11:23 pm

  10. Steve –

    I’m in a 203-year-old Baptist church in northeast Ohio, USA. I began as pastor there in April ’05. We have been working through a “re-visioning process” since September. We are trying to address the systemic issues that have caused 40 uninterrupted years of decline as a congregation. We have a significant core of people who are interested in moving in a culturally-senstive missional/discipleship direction, but there is a sense that we must continue to keep enough of the old-timers happy that we can get where we need to go without going broke. Any thoughts or suggestions?

    Comment by Matt — March 11, 2006 @ 4:45 am

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