For those of you who want to criticize the tone of this post, please make sure you read my previous posts on the emerging church. One is listed at the bottom. Take this post in the spirit is was intended and lighten up.

Today, at 12:32pm, while most of you were having lunch, the Emerging Church was taken off of  life support.emergingheadstone

The Emerging Church was not around long enough to be declared alive, so the announcement of its death comes with an apathetic “ho-hum” for many of you. But it is true. Stop the “What is the Emerging Church?” seminars. Edit the “Beware of Brian McLaren Sermons.” And don’t even entertain starting an Emerging blog. As far as I can see, the Emerging Church is dead at 15.

It got some cries out, made some very good points, called for changed, and then died. Its leaders are disappearing or have disassociated themselves from the movement. Publishers won’t even entertain books with this title. Those, like myself, who were very well acquainted with the “movement” get nauseous when the topic is even brought up. In fact, I am nauseous now.

Did this even last as long as the “Jesus Freaks”?

Supposing I am right, let me conduct a funeral. Please, step up to the mic and tell of your association with the movement. No takers. Ok, let me. Better—I will give an autopsy. As a sympathizer of the “movement” I feel I am quite qualified to do so.

Why did the emerging church die?

1. Lack of Tact Theory: I remember learning in seminary that when one pastor replaces another, the new pastor must be very careful not to attempt change too quickly. One thing at a time. Work with wisdom. Slowly, slowly, slowly. Don’t come in and beat up the old way of doing things thinking that your passion and belief in the necessity of change with be shared by others. It won’t. In fact, your demand for change will solidify people in their own places. You will be politely asked to leave. The emerging church lacked tact. It never gained the ear of the home base. Movements such as this need to be changed from the inside out, not the outside in. That is unless you are willing to go all the way and break completely from the home base (e.g. the Reformation).

2. The Offense Theory. The coup did not work. The elephant in the room (the Emerging Church) was forced out. They assumed that Evangelicals would listen and exit the building with them. But what happened was not unlike a disrespectful teenager who thought that he suddenly had it all figured out through a series of unadulterated epiphanies. He tugged on the shirt of his parents letting them know how much more he knew than them and he was blown off because of arrogance. “Tsk, tsk” was the reply, “I remember when I thought I knew it all.” While the Emerging Church, as well as teenagers, do have some very good things to say and should be listened to, it is the (almost total) disregard of Evangelicalism’s values that caused them to lose their audience. Evangelicals were offended.

3. Misidentified Evangelicalism Theory. It certainly is the case that Evangelicalism needs to reform. In fact, one of the Evangelical principles is that we are always reforming (semper reformanda). In principle, Evangelicals are not scared of change. When this principle is denied, it is no longer Evangelicalism, but some form of Fundamentalism. Emergers failed to realize the shared DNA with Evangelicals and belittled them instead. They, most of whom were former Fundamentalists (not Evangelicals), mistakenly identified Evangelicals with Fundamentalists. Therefore, their cries of change, their proclamations of enlightenment, served only to belittle Evangelicals. Ironically, their judgmental spirit of Evangelicalism backfired and caused them to look more like Fundamentalists than than those whom they criticized. It was a Fundamentalism of a different kind, but the attitude was the same. Grace left the emerging building.

4. Heretical Tolerance Theory: Oh, and then there was that. The Emerging church refused to stand up for anything. As the old song goes, “You have to stand for something or you will fall for anything.” The Emerging Church fell. It ran out of fuel. It called on everyone to leave their base and fly with them. Many of us came along for the ride. The problem is they never did land anywhere. They just flew and flew. They wanted to wait five or ten years to decide who they were. In the meantime, the fuel ran out. They did land and it was (mostly) not on friendly ground. From there they definitively cried out against Evangelical orthodoxy kicking us in the most sensitive areas: Abortion, Atonement, Justification, Assurance – and then there was the attempted burial of our belief that homosexuality was a sin. Oh, did I mention the attacks on Hell and the Exclusivity of Christ? They quickly moved from an insightful teen who might have some good things to say to crowd of disconnected enemies on the attack.

Of course, as I said, there were many of us who flew these skies with them. Some even identified with the movement believing it has many insights. But soon, most began to parachute out. It was too late for the band-aid of the Emerging/Emergent distinction. One after the other, people jumped. When its most prolific insiders jumped (along with a few pilots), it was over. We landed and acted as if it never happened. “Emerger who? Never heard of him.” And we pull our hat down over our eyes and move on.

To be fair, there is a very real sense in which the ethos of the emerging church will never die. It was not really born in 1994. It will take a new form – a more orthodox form. But that is for another discussion.

(If you have no idea what the emerging church is and would like an overview, see here.)

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    148 replies to "Obituary: The Emerging Church (1994-2009)"

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “heard a song once. “they will know we are christians by our love, by our love. they will know we are christians by our love.” this post and subsequent discussion is DEFINATELY what that song was about.”

      I agree. It’s LOVING to address aberrant doctrine.

    • […] Read the article  – well worth the time. […]

    • mbaker

      “And why did Emergent Village just convene 24 representatives to DC this last week to reimagine the organization?”

      That’s sort of a why did the chicken cross the road kind of question. The answer to that very old joke is : to get to the other side.

      That’s what we should be asking the emergent church: just where is the other side, if they’ve pretty much abandoned Evangelicalism, and yet made no cohesive statement as to where they stand as a majority?

      Hopefully, their upcoming conference will give us a better clue.

    • […] Read the whole thing here. […]

    • Minnow

      What is with all the drive-by emerging shootings? I thought it was a conversation? Do I smell?

      Q # 1: Who has been shot?
      Q # 2: Strange you should point that out after declaring it dead. Maybe trying to make it something it never claimed to be, demanding it live up to some criteria for an “organization”, and claiming to be a sympathizer has a little something to do with where you find yourself in the “conversation”.
      Q # 3: Yes.

    • Minnow

      Sorry–it wouldn’t let me edit. I should have had quotation marks around the first sentence. It’s CMP’s comment # 94.

    • C Michael Patton


      1. Me
      2. Notice the past tense. More evidence.
      3. Dang.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      CMP: “Do I smell?”

      Minnow: “Q # 3: Yes.”

      CMP: “3. Dang.”

      Witness the love in an Emerging Conversation.

    • Minnow

      #108 # 1 Paybacks are well…Actually, I didn’t notice any shooting, so my bad. Besides why would you want to converse with the dead. Isn’t that some other sort of spiritualism? 😉
      # 2 I apologize profusely for the poor grammar–my mixed tenses. Notice I also use the present tense when saying you insist it “live” up to some criteria for an organization. And to think I used to be an English teacher. Dang.
      # 3 We all do. You’ll survive. <3.

    • Minnow

      <3 for some Facebook pages is a heart. I was just trying to send a little love but it probably gets lost in translation.

    • C Michael Patton

      Minnow, I am into Ghost Hunters so necromancy is a vice of mine. 😉

    • Kara Kittle

      I still don’t know the emergent church, is it like Rick Warren’s church? And is it like the CCM, the Church Community Movement?

    • Minnow

      Kara–No to Rick Warren and I don’t know anything about the CCM but will guess no there as well. We are possibly best understood as discontent gray hairs and anti-establishment youth, sort of the new hippie only we’ve replaced LSD with lattes. ;p…humm… Now I’ve opened a can of worms. But at least TU&D might agree with me.

    • Kara Kittle

      Is it like that episode of King of the Hill when Bobby went to traveling revivals with the rock star skateboard preacher? Bobby wanted a tattoo so he could be representing and wore a t-shirt that said “I hate Satan” and Hank told him to take it off and Dale Gribble quipped that Hank must love Satan.

      Was it like that? Rock and skateboarding? I remember people used to say “I don’t like Chrisitan rock but if it makes kids respond then it must be ok”.

      CCM is church community movement. It usually involves superchurces I think.

    • Kara Kittle

      If emerging church hold music artists that are like rock singers then it is earlier than 1994. I seem to recall White Heart and Petra and Stryper making big waves way back in the late 1980s and they were just evolved from other artists like Keith Green.

    • Minnow

      Kara–I was being a bit too smart for my britches as my mother would have said. I honestly don’t know what others think of when they think Emerging Church. I think some of what has been stereotyped about the EC is a way to try and poke fun or belittle. One of the biggest complaints is that the Emerging Church won’t define itself, won’t produce a statement of faith, won’t stand on any solid ground. As a result, those who want something to fight against have tried to produce their own “working” definitions or have confronted those they see as the “leaders” of the movement when really the “perceived” leaders are just some of the more outspoken in the conversation. Some folks, like Brian McLaren, have written books that have captured the attention of a fairly large audience. Some who call themselves “emerging”, think McLaren is the Christian version of Gandhi and affirm every sylable he utters. Other’s, who also think of themselves as “emerging” could not care less about McLaren or the criticism more traditional folks level against him. I think the emerging church for me (and remember there is a very broad spectrum of those calling themselves emerging) has less to do with the format on Sunday morning (or whatever day of the week the “group” gathers) and more to do with day in and day out living. Despite CMP’s point of view, many are still talking about the Emerging Church and their personal journeys. You might consider checking out some of their blogs if you’re wanting an EC perspective.

    • Howard Pepper

      In reflecting on this long thread, I realized it’s interesting that only perhaps once, if that, did Phyllis Tickle and her fairly recent book, “The Great Emergence” come up. She’s Episcopalian, and looking from primarily a scholarly/journalistic view, not trying to do theological critique of either the Emergent/Emerging movement or the larger trends she also calls “emergence.”

      I read the book twice, as it is packed with a lot of history, trends, and interesting insights that, however, can sometimes be a bit fuzzy and hard to grasp clearly. One thing she does, without making it clear in much detail, is seem to lump the movement that Michael rightly ties to an Evangelical birth with a much broader trend that makes up her “Great Emergence.” I do think her basic thesis is right, that what is currently going on in religious thinking, particularly in America, is the early to mid stages of something that will ultimately be at least as impacting as the prior three great “re-do’s” (not her term) the church has gone through roughly every 500 years. (The latter is a relatively weak aspect of the thesis, I feel.) The last was the Reformation.

      I won’t further review this fascinating, if somewhat puzzling book here… one can consult Amazon or the blog by Rachel Held Evans, where she posted, a couple months back, a review/reflection on it I wrote, with a short thread of responses following.

    • Kara Kittle

      Oh Emerging Church is out of more than one denomination. It must be like making the church not so anitquated. More like the progressive movement. I understand now. I think it is an undercurrent in Christianity and a lot of people are applying emergent theology without really realizing it.

      I attended a church that was like that, the praise and worship leader was a man who had earrings and played only current music that appealed to him and not the rest of the congregation. On saturday nights they hired a building to have a rock concert in and play only the harder music and invited no one but teenagers becuase this was how they viewed youth ministry. To them it was not making a change in the children’s lives but giving them what they wanted and that was music they liked and games and free food. So by packaging it as youth ministry it did not really move these kids to coming to church and there was actual little ministry.

      The church was an established one from the 1930s. It held to the old fashioned way of doing things until just that year. I thought it was strange when they began having movie night in the church fellowship hall. And not even Christian movies.

    • Minnow

      Kara–It seems we are not speaking the same language. I do not think the emerging church I would identify with is particularly interested in attracting people to a “building”. Maybe the truth is two strains are “emerging” from the more traditional Church. One may be “seeker friendly” (to use a popular term). Those I consider myself to be a part of are just as disappointed in that format as the more tradional one. I personally see it as new wrapping for the same old controlling spirit., leagalism, and manipulation. The other emergers are more interested in practice, being hands and feet in a hurting world and letting that world know God loves it. They are also more willing to see God and good in unusual places.

    • Kara Kittle

      I think you are right. This emerging church thing is so incomprehensible we seem to be scratching our heads over it. If someone could just tell me one church that is an emerging church so I can look it up on the internet then I might understand.

    • […] has to say at least thought provoking, even when I do not agree with its point of view.  However, this post is disappointing.  His arrogance offends me and actually seems out of character for Mr. Patton.  […]

    • Lisa Robinson

      Minnow, in your last statement (#120) you describe emerging as a missional church. The inference is that an evangelical church is not missional. Is that the conclusion you are drawing? There are evangelical churches that are very outward focused and missional but are not emerging.

    • Minnow

      Lisa–I said much about the emerging Church I embrace that has nothing to do with being evangelical. Please try to avoid picking out strands to counter. My experience with evangelical is that many, not all, do a lot more talking then doing when it comes to being missional with the ultimate goal being to fill the pews. Nation wide 2% of all christian Church budgets goes toward foreign missions and only 8% leaves the building for any purpose at all, so to suggest that any of us as an “organization” are particularly missional is a stretch.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Minnow, I am not trying to argue with you or pick strands to counter. In fact, just the opposite is true. The reason I ask, is because there are evangelical churches that do have, in practice, missional focus, but are not be considered emerging. I actually go to such a church and what drew me to was the fact that the church was not interested in building up internal programs but purposed to take God out to the community, both here and abroad. In fact, in the message today on grace giving talked about how dollars should be invested in people and establishing God’s kingdom outside the walls of the church. He personally hoped that we as a church would never have to build another building.

      Having just taken World Missions as part of my curriculum, I would have to say you are right about that statistic and I personally was shocked at that low percentage. Although, I don’t think that average can be generally applied to all evangelical churches because to do so would lump them all into the same category and that would be unfair, no?

      I would further contend, that to have a missional mindset is intensely evangelical, or should be, since evangelicalism is built on Matthew 28:19-20. So to say that missional is an antitheses to evangelicalism I think is a mis-statement although I can see how one would make that conclusion based on the lack of mission efforts of many. I think the dividing line though between evangelical and emerging would be the stance on doctrinal certainty. But I don’t think doctrinal certainty, or the promotion of propositional truths, should in any way negate a mission ethos.

    • Kara Kittle

      Not all evangelism is based on that because some churches use Acts 2:38 as their basis and baptism in that evangelism.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Kara, Acts 2:38 is for the purpose of living out Matt 28:19-20. The gift of the Spirit enables believers to do that. It is not for the purpose of exalting the Spirit but exalting Christ.

    • Kara Kittle

      Ask the plethora of my relatives who are Jesus-Only, they refuse to accept Matthew 28. I grew up with Matthew 28 but my relatives don’t agree with it.

      So what I am saying is this. There are people who do indeed use Acts 2:38 as the basis for their evangelism and baptism because they will not ever ever ever use Matthew 28. I believe I know what I am talking about and you can ask around and find this out for yourself.

      The Oneness churches base their doctrine on Acts 2:38 and will not ever accept Matthew 28. Trust me. And if you don’t believe me call any pastor of any Oneness church and just ask them.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Kara, this may sound rude but it is not intended that way. It matters not what Oneness, or Jesus only or Pentacostals or even non-Pentacostals believe or say. What matters is what Jesus said and the commands that He gave concerning His expectation about His purpose and plan. He told His disciples to make more disciples (Matt 28:19-20) by going out starting locally then eventually through the whole earth to testify of Him. But they needed supernatural enablement to do that because they had not received the gift of the Spirit so He told them to wait for it.(John 14:17,26; 16:13-14; Acts 1:8). The power, which all believers now have, is to testify of Christ, again pointing to Acts 1:8.

      If a church bases their doctrine on Acts 2:38 without seeing how that correlates to Jesus’ redemptive plan and purpose, and the transitional significance of Acts with respect to that purpose, then I would say that is quite unfortunate. The purpose is to testify of Christ and make disciples, which is why missions is so important (also see Colossians 1:28)

    • Kara Kittle

      When I commented that Oneness believes it was not a commentary on whether or not they believe in missions as far as the Great Commission goes. But you will have to see that there are people who view missions differently than what you do.

      Oneness people do indeed evangelize. However my comment was regarding the fact that they do not accept Matthew 28 to base thier evangelism on. You might just argue with me on whether or not is right they do that. I was simply informing you that they do that.

      The missional mindset of Oneness is not on Matthew 28 but Acts 2:38. If you dislike that, argue with them on that.

    • minnow

      Lisa–Sadly preaching and practice do not always line up. The fellowship my family has been a part of since moving here calls themselves evangelical, missional, spirit led, Bible preaching, and several other interesting adjectives. They house a foodbank and 10-20 volunteers (out of a 300 plus congregations which is not to say all the volunteers attend the fellowship) serve aproximately 50-100 families each Saturday morning. At one time the director was given a small stipen and a portion of the “mission’s budget” went to the food bank. However, hard economic times have cause those items to be cut from the budget. Several individuals in the fellowship are involved with various lay ministries around town including: Youth for Christ, Firstway Pregnancy Center (an abortion alternative ministry), and Teen Challenge. While the pastor enjoys pointing to these “outreaches” the fellowship neither organizes groups to serve in them nor funds them as a fellowship. I am NOT lumping all Churches or even all evangelical fellowships in the same pile. I am only making my comments based on my personal experience and statistical research. I do not know how visible your fellowship makes its budget but if it owns (or is in process of owning) its building and has more then one pastor on staff I would be surprised to find out that more than 10% of its budget goes out the door. If it numbers over 100 in the congregation I would be surprised to find more than 20% serving within the congregation let alone out in the comunity in some kind of organized fashion. If either of these things is true it is indeed a unique fellowship, at least to my personal experience.
      Finally, there is a huge difference between making disciples and making converts. The former requires relationship while the latter only needs a charismatic sales pitch.

    • […] is a good (fun?) article which has some intense truth in it. Read it all HERE Comments […]

    • Nicholas

      I should state, I have no idea why I am writing on a blog that has readers who believe in a Young Earth. What is the point. Obviously I am out of my element, and I am not dealing with people that would be interested in facts and figures (if the pole is any indication).

      However, I will note that I am disappointed in emergent, as someone who had been part of the conversation I express my disappointment here

      That being said, I am disappointed with Christians that refuse to accept science or inform themselves. . so whatever.

    • MikeK

      Wow, you guys still talking about this? I thot EC was pronounced dead LAST year! No wait, or was that two years ago…

      Move along folks, nothing to see here…

    • […] been sympathetic to the Emerging Church conversation, has written an excellent blog post entitled “Obituary: The Emerging Church (1994-2009)”. In it he says there are four main reasons for the death of the Emergin Church: 1. Lack of Tact […]

    • Joe White

      It seems to me that the EC positions can usually be summed up:

      ‘We care more about missions than you do.’

      ‘We care more about the poor than you do.’

      ‘We care more about peace than you do.’

      ‘We care more about the environment than you do.’

      ‘We care more about justice than you do.’

      and so forth

      It is a smug, holier-than-thou approach that gets pretty old, pretty quick.

      They are great at critiquing others, not so great at receiving correction themselves.

      While ECers claim to ‘walk humbly’ and ‘honor the church in all it’s forms’, I’ve seen little of it unfortunately.

      It’s disappointing to see people with so much energy and passion for God using that passion so destructively and divisively.

    • […] Patton declared the death of the movement earlier this year. It’s already passing in many ways out of the public eye; it’s dubious that Rob Bell […]

    • RCGWho

      Unfortunately, the whole movement has gone viral. It’s on the campuses and campus ministries, in the churches right down to folks like Jack Hayford you thought would never fall for the stuff. It’s infected everything. Now you can be a Stuff White People Like christian who sits around arguing with an imported beer in one hand and a cigar in the other and feel godly cuz you talk sex trafficking. Ugh. Now I have to send my kids to college and help them navigate around the full on secular Marxists and their “support group”–the pseudo secular christian Marxists. Fun.

    • scott b

      Um, I observe several of the largest Emerging churches in the area and around the country in very good shape. They may be in the process of renaming themselves, but for the most part many of them are doing very well including one of the most liberal Emerging churches in the country.
      Now maybe start ups are not happening anymore and that is the real good thing…no more off-spring and eventually the ones in existance will die out. May take decades, but they will eventually die out.
      Anyway, it will be a good thing if the Emerging church movement is dead, but I think it is still at a crawl as a movement, but those still alive are pumped and running full bore.

    • […] Kind of Christianity. Brian is one of the leading voices in the emergent movement (a movement that many say is now defunct), which is simply a postmodern reclothing of theological liberalism. I’ve […]

    • […] it’s ok that such a movement is in its fade-out stage (or was already dying out, as others posted previously). And something new will arise. It might look and seem better than the emerging […]

    • Danny P

      Im sure the “prolific insiders” will have a special place in heaven.

    • […] “The Emerging Church was not around long enough to be declared alive, so the announcement of its death comes with an apathetic “ho-hum” for many of you.  But it is true.  Stop the “What is the Emerging Church?” seminars. Edit the “Beware of Brian McLaren Sermons.” And don’t even entertain starting an Emerging blog.  As far as I can see, the Emerging Church is dead at 15.” (ref) […]

    • mary mae

      the emergent church may be dead..but the movement is very alive and moving at a rapid pace taking many leaders along with it, and steering many believers down a less than biblical path. I only wish it would die the death that you speak of!

    • […] “The Emerging Church was not around long enough to be declared alive, so the announcement of its death comes with an apathetic “ho-hum” for many of you.  But it is true.  Stop the “What is the Emerging Church?” seminars. Edit the “Beware of Brian McLaren Sermons.” And don’t even entertain starting an Emerging blog.  As far as I can see, the Emerging Church is dead at 15.” (ref) […]

    • Mike Clawson

      Hey, remember back in ’09 when everyone was saying the emerging church was dead?

      Good times, huh?

      How’d that prediction turn out for ya? ‘Cause as far as I can tell, we’re all still here, doing our thing.

      Maybe we’re all just a bunch of emerging zombies, or vampires, or some other kind of living dead just wandering around with all these wild geese everywhere…

    • Ed Kratz

      Emerging what? Oh yeahhhh… Weren’t they like the Jesus Freaks or something?? 😉

    • […] However, today things have changed. No one blogs about it. No one claims the name anymore. No publisher would dare accept a book about the emerging “thing” that happened in the forgotten past. Why? because around the year 2009, the identity of the emerging church went silent and many (some, enthusiastically) put up gravestone over its assigned plot. In fact, I even paid my respects. […]

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