Mainline churches are adopting “postmodern” models of ministry to suit an increasingly pluralistic constituency, a process that may challenge traditional denominational structures.
The Reformed Church in America (Dutch Reformed) has been in the forefront of attempts to adapt congregations from coast to coast to “provide itself a niche among bigger mainline churches,” reports the Christian Century (October 5). Often these postmodern ministries, which stressing community and informal worship, are found within traditional congregations. The Third Reformed Church near Kalamazoo, Michigan hosts The River, which uses hard-driving, amplified music, a casual dress code and draws minorities. Parishioners from Third Reformed also started Within Reach Ministries, a collection of cell-group congregations that gathers once a week for prayer and praise in a former church sanctuary.
Mainline postmodern ministries are largely similar to their evangelical counterparts, which started the phenomenon [see May 2004 RW]. If anything, the more liturgical denominations, such as Episcopal and Lutheran, are less wary of postmodern approaches than the earlier seeker-oriented megachurch style, mainly because the former leaves greater room for–and sometimes stresses– traditional practices, such as communion and other rituals. This can be seen in such Lutheran postdenominational ministries as All People’s Church (http://www.allpeopleschurch.com) in Phillips Ranch, Calif., and the Church of the Apostles in Seattle (http://www.apostleschurch.org).
The latter church, which is affiliated both with the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and founded by a black women pastor, uses the trademark concepts and methods of postmodern ministries: stressing community, “justice,” small group intimacy and the idea that “faith is not a set of beliefs but a way of life to be lived.” The church’s website states that the Church of the Apostles is “neither traditional (50s) nor contemporary (60s-80s) but ancient-future,” drawing on both chant, candles and communion and on “techno-modern” alternative rock, art and video.
This postmodern movement among Lutherans started informally and is expressed in the “Emerging Leader Network,” although organizationally based at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa. But the main source of identity and community among these mainline postmodernists is drawn not from the denomination or tradition but rather from other postmodern ministries and networks, such as Hothouse in the Pacific Northwest (http://www.hothouse.org) and the international Emergent Village (http://www.emergentvillage.com).
Since the Church of the Apostles and other similar ministries frequently criticize denominations as “modernist organizations” that are the opposite of the “organic, networked community,” the postmodernists’ relation to mainline structures is likely to be an uneasy one.
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