How Emergent Are You? McLaren's Seven Layers of the Emergent Conversation

Islam has its five pillars. Buddhism has its eight-fold path. Evangelicalism has its four spiritual laws. And now the Emerging Church has its seven layers of conversation.

Last month I was part of a small gathering of church leaders that hosted an evening with Brian McLaren. And the conversation turned as hot as the chutney. A number of participants were eager to discuss the criticisms that have been levied against the emerging church in recent months. The hijacking of the emergent movement by those merely interested in new worship trends rather than more substantive issues aggravated others. Everyone was looking to McLaren to chime in.

Always more likely to defuse than to detonate, McLaren entered the spicy conversation casually while slouched into the sofa with beverage in hand. He cautioned us against judging where others were in the "emergent conversation." Leaning forward, he outlined what he saw as the seven layers of the emergent conversation. "We all enter at a different layer," he said, "but everyone should be welcomed into the conversation no matter where they may be."

Based on McLaren's description, I've outlined the seven layers below.

I've added my own titles and used the imaginary "Seeker Community Church" to illustrate each point.

Layer 1: Style

Seeker Community Church realizes they're ineffective at reaching the coveted 18-32 year old demographic. They send a few staff members to a conference and they come back with goatees and candles.

Layer 2: Evangelism

After trying every facial hair permutation, Seeker Community Church discovers that to actually communicate the gospel to a younger generation they've got to learn to speak their language. They hire a former youth pastor to start an evening worship service with an "x" in its name.

Layer 3: Culture

It gradually dawns upon Seeker Community Church that the new challenges they are encountering are not limited to the younger generation. The entire culture is shifting away from the modern presuppositions their church was built upon. Some of the language and practices of the "x" service trickle into the rest of the church.

Layer 4: Mission

The emergence of Postmodernism causes Seeker Community Church to reevaluate the effectiveness of their mission strategy. Altar calls and gospel tracks are left behind in favor of community groups and relationships. Conversion is accepted as a journey and not merely a point of decision.

Layer 5: Church

Seeker Community Church begins to wonder if a multi million-dollar building housing a theatrical production every weekend is the only way to do church. Drawing from new and ancient forms of church, they launch alternative communities - one meets in a bar on Sunday night, and the other is a liturgical gathering. The church also partners with an inner city monastic group to reach street kids.

October 28, 2005

Displaying 1–10 of 38 comments

Call Me Ishmael

January 20, 2006  8:23am

I'm afraid that when you peel away these layers you will find something rotten at the core.

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Martin Büttner

December 18, 2005  9:37am

The idea of cementing these 7 levels in stone, as some of the comments here seem to do, fly in the face of what the emergent church is trying to do. Anybody who thinks they have arrived at the "highest level" of emerging church, probably has not really understood what it's all about. The aim is not to be the most emergent church possible, but to be relevant to the people you are trying to bring into fellowship with God. This does not require a model or scheme to follow. It requires intense relationship (communion) on the vertical (God) and horizontal (people)plane. You mention that McLaren uses the word layers, not levels, which indicates to me that he does not neccessarly consider it a chronological process through the layers, but merely as an observation that different christians and different churches are in different places regarding the issue. Emerging churches are there to reach emerging (read postmodern) people. By far not everybody fits into that category, so by far not all churches should strive to be emergent.

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Scott Jacobsen

November 25, 2005  11:38am

I think I'm at #8–I don't even want to know what the next "church thing" is. The one thing all church styles have in common is the marketing assumption, with the accompanying workshops, experts, dvd series, books, etc. It's pretty apparent that, in North America anyway, all ways of "doing church" work, and all ways of "doing church" fail. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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Sandy McCann

November 18, 2005  10:35pm

Our world IS changing and the only way we can Glorify God as He deserves is to be like Jesus and immerse ourselves in the culture and reach out...and in the process becoming a missional church. *Trendy* is when you become "of the world"...and Jesus showed us a model of how to do it otherwise. For the poster who asked the *level 7* people to have patience with those just beginning the journey, I would ask that those among you who are *paid ministry professionals* be open to just plain moms (and others) like me that the Holy Spirit has given a vision for this your mind and heart and invite us into conversation. God often speaks through unexpected sources. Sandy

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November 16, 2005  9:44pm

I don't think this has anything do to with emergent churches other than specific references to current trends. I think these are the steps that churches or anyone goes through when a cultural shift occurs and people are scrambling to be relevant to that culture at that time. It probably happened ten/fifteen years ago when everyone was scrambling to be a willow creek style church. It probably happened during the reformation and so on and so on. if this is the case, emergent is already old news and everyone should be looking to the next cultural shift and jump on that bandwagon. I think this is a great example of human nature in the face of a changing world. ultimately, it comes down to what Jesus did. he hung out with people and told them the good news of salvation and a relationship with him. whether you are old school, modern, postmodern, emergent, liturgical, etc. just do what Jesus did and you will always be relevant and don't try to be something you are not. You ARE a child of God, you may not be emergent.

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Tony Myles

November 15, 2005  6:19pm

Don't forget about layer #8: Seeker Community Church renames themselves "Shema" after hiring a Rabbi to be their church consultant so that they can effectively market a multi-site conference in the way that the "ancient Hebrews" did.

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November 10, 2005  10:52pm

Actually, it is bothering that God is not mentioned until step 6, but not because Brian is recommending this as a pathway for churches to take. These "steps" are really steps taken from one place and into another. Most of the churches taking these steps are seeking at first to find new ways to "reach out", and what they hopefully end up doing is coming to a place of realizing that there is no "reaching out" without depth of intimacy with God. Thus, the realization of where they should have been all along arrives around step 6. These steps are not recommendations as much as they are descriptions. So, yes, it is bothering – how did the living Church come to a place where God has been left out of the picture for so long? We talk about God, but intimacy with God and yearning to find out where He is bringing transformation in the world seems to be foreign...

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November 10, 2005  11:44am

Does it bother anyone else that talking about God doesn't enter the picture until step 6? Steps 1-5 are all just questions of effectiveness, like some kind of corporate marketing problem.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

November 09, 2005  6:16pm

Great thoughts. I love that we have differing layers to discuss, as if on a journey. The point, indeed, is not to become a level 7, but to be the church and to progress to being a missional community. One layer I would love to add, would be 0–the Bible, or the Word. Our theology and the authority of scripture allows us a foundation to launch on such a journey. Without it, what is evangelism? What is mission? What is really the gospel?

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November 09, 2005  7:16am

Bernie, I appreciate your comments - thank you. I would encourage not seeing the statements as a slam against Campus Crusade, but simply being unafraid to ask "Is this the Gospel, or a filter I have seen the Gospel through?" It might be better to keep with what Bernie has reminded us is actually written rather than getting so used to an incorporated saying that we begin having a hard time differentiating between that and what is really there. "Emergent" is a mindset that looks for what God is doing in the midst of the culture we live in - sensitivity. The traditional/modern church infrastructure simply has not tended to be very good at that ( Nowhere without Him, Mícheál

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