Some little while ago (in 1517), German monk nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door, and it caused quite a stir. For many in the church, it caused a complete change in their thinking and in their practice as a result. For those it assaulted, it meant the end of an era.
Somewhat more recently (in 1999), some non-monks thinking about what business was like “nailed” their 95 Theses to the web, and it too caused quite a stir: the subsequent book was subtitled, “The End of Business as Usual” and you can now read the whole think, online, for free. For many in business, it caused a complete change in their thinking and in their practice as a result… those that “got it” that is – some still don’t. The company for which I work is a signatory (caution: long page) to the Cluetrain Manifesto – and in large part it exists because the old way of doing things as directed by other people under the old methods was too sickening to partake any longer.
Thesis No. 1: “Markets are conversations.” Thesis No. 2: “Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.” Now, the church has been trying to learn from the business world for some years now, but let’s say you’re in the business of placing tracts or staging outreach events to reach “the lost”: you’ve already blown it twice, and you’ve still got 93 more theses to go. The world has changed, and you’d better take notice.
The new thing is rather more organic than we’ve known before. But history has a tendency toward reruns, so let’s consider this – allow me to generalize. Organic change starts in the grassroots, and spreads. It becomes a movement, and more people learn the joy of the organic change as it spreads. Somewhere along the way, there’s so much grassroots organic change it needs to get organized, and people start to structure it and manage it. The new movement has a face and takes criticism, but it now has mechanisms and spokespersons for response. Things go well for a while, and the newfound structure helps channel early growth as the grassroots goes mainstream. Something very significant has happened, and a figurative monument is built to commemorate it, and the monument is inscribed with the new way of doing things. Meanwhile, somewhere else, another organic change is starting in the grassroots, and starting to spread. People leave the first movement to go off to join the second one. The leaders of the first movement remain committed to the inscription in the monument and keep pushing – growth has plateaued, but there is still a reasonable population of people who will stick with it for the long haul, they’re “lifers.” Unfortunately the spark has moved on, and the place becomes a mausoleum.
Did you catch that? Movement… Monument… Mausoleum.
You know you’re in trouble when you start trying to feed a movement, because you’re already on a path that leads to death. The thing about a movement is that there’s a throng of people pushing down the path, and you wake up one morning a half-mile past the middle stop, and only the fortunate ones look sick, desperate to figure a way off… the rest would describe themselves as quite content, but very worried about a few sick-looking people around them.
All that to say this: the biggest item of concern for me with the emerging church is that it could easily become a movement.