From the title alone, some of you may be questioning the validity of the suburban flight of the emerging church. What I mean by this is not that the emerging church is moving to the edges of cities with their own campus. I do not mean that they are disengaged from the societies in which they live and work. In reality, it is quite the contrary. Emerging churches are very concerned with the people in the depths of the city – they are reaching out to young business professionals and the poverty-stricken, the intelligent writer or artist and the single mother trying to raise five children and make ends meet.
But I think a sort of “suburban flight” is occurring as more and more emerging congregations pop up across the countryside. The flight does not necessarily refer to a location, but rather the movement of the flight – away from traditional denominations. Just as many suburbanites became discouraged by the crime and the noise of the city, the emerging church has become fed up with denominational hierarchies and the meaningless arguments that church boards spend hours arguing over. And, just as the suburbanites decided that a utopia was possible by moving away, the emerging church has done the same. Isn’t that the easy way out? Is is harder to work at reforming the churches and denominations we currently have in place or going off and starting a church the way that we want it to look? To the emerging church, denominations are like the crime and the poverty within the city. And instead of dealing with the issues at hand, they skipped town, enjoying the luxuries that cities can afford them, while neglecting the issues that really need to be addressed. And yet, the more these churches grow, the more structure they must put into place. And it’s still not a paradise – these congregations still have many of the same problems that traditional, denominational churches deal with. One can look back at the history of the church and look at the impact Thomas Cranmer had on the Anglican Church (Episcopalian here in America). He didn’t start from scratch; him and King Henry VIII essentially reformed Roman Catholicism to fit their people (and they weren’t left with much choice after King Henry divorced).
The emerging is doing many things right – it has been beneficial to have a fresh expression of the faith present throughout the United States. It has made everyone self-critique their own traditions and why they do certain things that they do. But I think that something might be missing in the long run. Over the course of history, denominations have been there, through thick and thin (even more so since the Reformation with the creation of so many new ones). Would the creativity, passion, and faith of those involved with emerging churches be better directed at reforming denominations, using the cities that are in place instead of running off to the edges and creating a suburb? At this point, I do not have the answer to the question. But it is something I wrestle with very deeply as it will shape where I want to end up as a pastor.