Emergent churches often receive considerable attention in the press because they offer an element of surprise to readers who know little or nothing about them. One such church, with the fairly typical emergent type name of Fusion Church, meets in a Chicago suburb about a 45-minute drive from my home. Fusion Church is in Lake Zurich (IL). It was featured in an article in our suburban paper on the Monday following Easter. Because Fusion represents many of the "trends" we find in similar "emergent" churches this story is worthy of some comment and response.
Fusion is a small, non-denominational (though connected to various ministries) congregation that is five-years old. It is a thoroughly orthodox congregation in its beliefs and ethical commitments. Fusion says, about itself:
We are a group of people from all walks of life attempting to follow Jesus. We recognize following Jesus is a 24/7 commitment, done in God's power, with the support of intimate relationships [community]. It has incredible implications on how we do life with our families, at work and among friends. We invite you to join us on this journey. You don't have to have everything figured out, you just need a willingness to learn more about Jesus and what it means to participate in His mission.
The Fusion congregation met in a local elementary school until recently. On Easter Sunday about 60 people gathered for an evening service. The "Lead Pastor" Eric Lerew (one of many insider words in this movement) said, when commenting on the church's move to a local church building, "Our main focus is on what's happening outside the walls of the church. We want to live out the gospel in the community where people live and work. What happens inside these four walls is secondary." Lerew, who is 44 years old, says words like "organic and fluid" describe their ministry model. (Again, we encounter two buzz words, that are helpful to some extent, commonly used within this movement!) Lerew rightly notes, as I have indicated in recent blogs, that there are many people who will never set foot inside a church. He then adds, "Our Sunday meetings are just a rallying point from which we go our to reach the community."He says the church is divided into what they call "villages." Members focus on starting friendships and doing service projects in particular geographic locations in and around their town of Lake Zurich.
The goal of these small villages is a "common mission." "Sometimes it's sharing meals with people, phone conversations, anything we can do to show the love of Christ." Last Christmas the people of Fusion not only dropped off gifts but spent the day with various families getting to know them. A 26-year-ld woman who attends Fusion says, "You don't have to pretend to be someone you're not. It's refreshing."
After five years Fusion remains quite small. Lerew says this is fine since attendance is not the real issue "so long as we can make a difference in [people's] lives." One cannot fault this attitude, one which is much healthier than that which often drives membership in so many local churches.
1. Such churches are a natural, spiritual response to the intense inward, consumeristic focus that most congregations and their leaders have developed within a Christendom culture in modern America.
2. Emphasis on getting "outside the walls" of the Sunday gathering is very good. It is also clearly biblical. It feels a lot more like the ancient church than the modern church. This is clearly happening within churches like Fusion. But this missional development is much more widely spreading, even into more "traditional" churches.
3. Getting directly involved with people, where they work and live, and spending time with unbelievers in building relationships, should be a core value for any truly missional church. (Sadly, few churches make it a core value, thus the rise of churches like Fusion!) I applaud Fusion's goal profoundly. I pray that Fusion will impact many lives, in Lake Zurich and beyond, and many other churches for good.
1. Fusion, like so many similar churches, has chosen (so it seems) to focus intensely on one side of biblical theology and not as much on the other. Their Web site shows both side are present but the pendulum swing does seem apparent. They have chosen being missional over being institutional or developed, or sacramental and ecclesial. This dilemma was not an either/or choice in Scripture or the early church. The church that we see in the N. T. celebrated the sacraments, met regularly for prayer and teaching, catechized and baptized converts (and children) and could be identified by its various markers; e.g. the enrolling of the widows, the choice of elders and deacons, the sending of formal membership type letters to other churches, the practice of discipline. These all infer some form of membership. Fusion does not seem to have formal membership. (I could have missed this in looking over the Web site.) But Fusion's financial commitment is impressive, with a budget of over $130,000. (Impressive for such a small group.) And tithing is strongly taught on the Web site! (I always find the way this principle is presented lacking in clear biblical theology. Personally, I do not think tithing is a biblical concept. Proportionate and sacrificial giving are much closer to the norms of Scripture, which means a faithful gift can be much more than 10% but it also means it could be, and sometimes should be, less.)
2. I believe every church should intentionally seek to grow both spiritually and numerically. The goal is not numbers, for the sake of numbers, but real converts who will become identifiable disciples. The way a church grows best is by reaching the unchurched, of which there are plenty in most towns and cities in the U.S. for every existing church. There is a clear need for thousands more churches to be planted. No matter how you cut this many people will still gravitate to the "meeting" of a larger group over time. This growing group might be broken down into small groups but the fact is larger groups will inevitably develop as the gospel works powerfully within a particular community.
3. The ultimate size of the home base, or the local church, is irrelevant. I wish people would really, truly recognize this point. (I commend Fusion for grasping this clearly!) But this works both ways, in large and small congregations. I am convinced there were, and always will be, many small churches, some mid-sized ones and a few very large ones. This was also true in the ancient church and seems evident in the New Testament.
4. Fusion downplays, at least according the what I read in this Daily Herald article, the importance of the sacraments and the gathered life of a worshiping congregation. (The Web site presents a better picture of the church than the shorter news article did.) Celebration and preaching could easily be lost unless Fusion is very intentional about keeping them as high priorities. Currently these seem to be higher priorities at Fusion than in some emergent churches.
When I read articles like this in my morning newspaper I am reminded that evangelicals, if nothing else, are great at producing new models of the church. There is something profoundly good about this development (mission, outreach, etc.) and something profoundly wrong with it (the loss of discipline, markers found in the sacramental life of a church, etc.) I welcome the contribution of Fusion Church but I long to see so much more.
Just a few weeks ago I spoke to the pastor of a large (older) church in the Los Angeles area who has taken a traditional Reformed Church and turned it into a missional outreach movement that I think people at Fusion would applaud. Everything Fusion lives for is being done by this local Reformed Church. These members are in the homes of their neighbors, they are delivering meals, painting houses, serving widely across their city. The mayor has even said that this is the most vital service organization in his city. This church wants to plant 100 new churches in 10 years. Many will be small groups and most will like be in homes. Many will likely be led by non-professionally trained leaders. All will have the same DNA. They will be catholic in their theology, Reformed in their confessional life and missional in their practice and development. I would wish for thousands of similar churches, be they Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox. I think this will get us a lot closer to the biblical model without starting new trends with each new wave of evangelicalism that comes along.