Much chat about the so-called emerging church seems to assume that it comes from nowhere in the sense that it consists of groups forming in homes or pubs with no connection to any other Christian community. This is because many emerging church groups are set up by those who have left what stuart Murray calls inherited church because they cannot function within it.
I have for some time thought, however, that new forms of church will also need to emerge from traditional/inherited churches or those churches will not see the decade out.
I'm sorting out a cafe-style gathering for our evening anniversary service this weekend which is an exercise in looking back - sharing memories, telling stories - and looking forward - what memories will the rising generation be forming in the coming years?
It's got me thinking about whether the church of the future really can emerge out of the church of the present and the past. Is it possible for the rising generation to begin to create a church in its image as the generation currently dominant in the church has created a community in its image over the past 30 years or so?
More specifically, I want to help us explore what those currently running the church need to be doing to prepare the next generation to take the church on. The dilemma is that we so train and nurture people that they will only be able to perpetuate the current structures. How can we nurture our young people and young adults in the ethos and values of Christian community in such a way that they are able to give their own shape to those values in the churches they create?
Even more importantly, how can we give space to the rising generation to begin creating church that meets their needs while still functioning within the framework of community that meets the needs of the current leading generations?
One obvious response to this is to allow the creation of lean-to groups - gatherings of people who want to explore different ways of doing things - which are resourced by the church they lean against. Those involved in such groups would be members of the supporting church. In a sense this is an adaptation of the church planting model so popular in the 1970s and 80s but it might create space for experiment and adaptation, for the exploration of what shapes work for church in very specific contemporary social contexts.
It will be interesting, as we do a ritual handing on of the baton from the over-40s to the under 40s on Sunday evening, to see what emerges from it. Will it just be a nice thing to do or will actually shift the balance of power within our community with the current generation genuinely making room for the emerging generation to explore, spread their wings and create new ways of doing things? We'll see.