They may be called “post-modern” churches or just gatherings and meetings without any ecclesiastical status, but there appears to be growing interest in alternatives to established congregational structures, including seeker and megachurches.
An article on the postmodern or “Gen-X” churches in the Christian newsweekly World (April 10) notes how they stress their differences from baby boomer-led megachurhes and their programmed, entertainment-based approach. The Gen-X churches have been around for almost a decade, but their emphasis on “authenticity” and community are now drawing large enough numbers to rival megachurches.
For instance, Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan has grown to more than 10,000 weekly attenders in five years. But unlike seeker churches, marketing to age groups is discouraged in these congregations, and the trend is toward smaller and medium-sized churches with more of a participatory style. There is also an interest in more liturgical forms of worship among some of these churches.
Charisma magazine (May) reports that a new breed of the postmodern churches have left behind many “churchly” trappings. What is called natural or organic church growth is driving a movement of churches known as Awakening Chapel to spread mainly through new believers reaching out to people in their circles of influence.
The movement of 400 churches in 16 states and 12 countries can be found in homes, coffee houses, beaches and as offshoots of 12-step groups. Most of the gatherings are small but quickly branch out to start other groups. Several other similar groups of churches have also been launched, including The Refuge in Salt Lake City, Big Fish in Mesa, Arizona, and The Fountain, east of Los Angeles.
A very different kind of alternative religious structure has been created by the “meetup” phenomenon. Sojourners magazine (April) reports that the founding of Meetup.com during the Howard Dean campaign allowed Internet users to link up and meet with like-minded people by plugging in their locations and topics of interest. “Besides grassroots political organizing, some of the most popular meetups are attended by disenfranchised religious (or irreligious) types.” Jesse Holcomb writes that Meetup.com (there are now similar sites, such as Friendster.com and Lycos.com) carries listings of ex-Mormons, shamanists, pagans, and atheists hoping to find comradery.
“Interestingly enough, there are comparatively few evangelical or Catholic listings on the Web site.” He adds that “Mainstream politics and mainstream religion both face the perennial tendency to become more institutionalized and inflexible. Consequently, indivudiuals who feel alienated from these spheres are finding other ways to interact and participate in public life.”
The immidiacy of these meetups “almost remind one of church. Participants know that while they meet, a similar group is gathering on the same day, at the same time, in hundreds of cities all over the world to share similar interests and experiences, a koinonia for folks on the fringe.”
(World, P.O. Box 2001, Asheville, NC 28802; Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746; Sojourners, 2401 15th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20009)