Networks have grown in prominence over the last decade. Actually, few national networks are more than a decade old. However, it is not a secret that they are growing in participation and in influence.
This has not been free of controversy. Many in denominations are concerned and some are critical at the rise of networks. They have some valid concerns: networks often have less racial and economic diversity, they tend to be often less involved in global missions, and they are often driven by one methodology.
However, churches are not asking for permission before they connect with such networks. They simply are. As we explained in Breaking the Missional Code:
[Many groups] have started exploring new ways of doing ministry in partnership. Groups like Acts 29, GlocalNet, Xpansion, Stadia, Redeemer's Church Multiplication Alliance, Fellowship Associates (and many others) were unknown or nonexistent five to ten years ago...
Networks have become a major part of church life in North America. Denominations are still struggling to relate to such networks, but churches are clearly not. In addition to partnering with our denomination, we are both involved in such networks.
Most of these networks have a particular plan or focus. Some networks specifically plant churches for a certain group or denomination. For example, Stadia and The Orchard Group both plant Independent Christian churches. However, most are transdenominational--working with churches in and out of other denominations.
Acts 29 explains it this way: "Acts 29 is a trans-denominational peer-to-peer network of missional church planting churches. . . . Acts 29 churches assist called and qualified pastors as they pursue their church planting dreams through assessment, coaching, training, funding, and friendship by connecting them with like-minded people."
GlocalNet describes their purpose this way: "GlocalNet is a network of churches worldwide who have the vision of being a part of one of the first global church-planting movements in history! Our purpose is to form clusters of churches in cities around the globe that will transform the world. GlocalNet churches/clusters are committed to 3 strategic objectives:
• Starting multiplying churches
• Transforming local communities
• Impacting the world through nation building.
Back in 2006 we wrote:
These early networks will open a floodgate of church alliances. Churches will begin to pool resources to plant and support churches based on affinity (and then, perhaps, beyond such affinities). We are aware of fourteen networks that are presently forming.
Wow. That was actually written in 2005 (to be published in 2006) and now I have a list of 70 networks on my computer.
Simply put, churches are choosing to network, cooperate, and do missions in a new way. They are not asking for permission to do it; they are just doing it. As a result, these churches are having a higher involvement in transformational mission than ever before.
As these networks grow and gain influence, denominations are trying to discern how best to relate to trans-denominational networks... For many, these alliances are seen as a threat. However, it is hard to dismiss networks through which more and more churches are finding a meaningful outlet for mission involvement. These churches are more involved in missions than ever before--although not in a traditional manner and not through the preexisting system, whether international or North American.
Obviously, that leads to the question of how denominations an networks fit together.