Sunday, February 26, 2006

specialization and diversity: mega vs. 'mergent

In our church we try not to specialize. At least, we try not to specialize like the mega-church model. We have multiple people speak on various Sunday mornings, not just "paid staff." We have many people play instruments and lead small groups. Set up and tear down every Sunday is done by multiple people. We don't really have "specialized" teams for this or that.

The reason for this lack of specialization is because we don't have the core value of "excellence." That's not to say we don't want to do everything we do the best that we can. But that is more like having the value of "do the best you can with what you've got." Our Sunday mornings aren’t perfectly smooth and our link groups are often a mess. That is because we value "multiplication." We are trying to lose our jobs and turn them over to other, often less experienced, people so that we can grow. Organic growth happens through multiplication. The mega-church has people who are "professionals" at every station who know exactly what to do. They are specialized in their functioning within the community. Our church is trying to develop "generalists": people with a wide array of experiences and a core ability to love and lead people well.

So we could say that the emergent community doesn't specialize like the mega-church. But it seems that we specialize on a communal level. Whereas in the mega-church there is a preaching pastor, lead pastor, mission pastor, youth pastor, pastor to the pastors, security pastor, cleaning pastor, counseling pastor and the like, we don't specify that kind of individual specialization within our community. But our community itself is a, sort of, “specialized community.” Emergent churches are becoming more and more "relevant" to their local areas. Our expression of the local church reflects niches of subcultures within our larger culture. We are less "national" and more "tribal" if you will.

So maybe the mega-church has the advantage here in terms of diversity. While they specialize individually in their roles within the community, they draw in a wide array of people. Their large community of 5000 or more people are diversified. Diversity is something the emergent church desires. And yet we are designed in a way, specifically as small church plants, not to be "diverse." In a sense, our paradigm is working against itself. We are creating space for a more inclusive community and yet our close, missional, pseudo-Celtic, communities are bound to be more homogeneous by nature.

While emergent churches may draw in some diversity in terms of different kinds of middle-class white folks from differing Christian traditions, we are largely monochromatic. But even if the black community as a whole were to find themselves in the midst of the emergent conversation, they too would probably establish homogeneous communities. Part of being emergent means being relevant to the culture. If you are black, then your first thoughts are probably toward your own sub-culture. Your church would attract people like yourself, those to whom you are trying to be relevant.

This is what I mean when I say that the emergent church has “communal specialization” rather than “individual specialization.” While individuals operate practically as generalists within the community, the community itself becomes specialized for a particular pocket of people. Diversity in the mega-church looks like blacks, whites, Asians, and Hispanics all singing and working together in one huge, loosely connected community. Diversity in the 'mergent church might look like middle-class church plants loosely networking with city church plants, Asian church plants, and predominantly black church plants in their general geographical area. I guess the question is whether we are ok with this kind of diversity being what it is to have diversity in the emergent church.


At 7:16 AM, Blogger postmodernegro said...


I see your point about diverse communities in concert in a given location (e.g. as a small black church partnering with a small white church).

The challenge for emergent is that if we are going to be truly participating in the Missio Dei we are going to have to deal with the real reasons why there is separation in the first place. The separation is in large part due to the historical precendent of racial segregation which stemmed from white supremacy. In reflecting on this the quest to be relevant to our particular sub-cultures can leave racism and cultural imperialism unchecked. We need the prescence of the 'other' in order to remind us that relevance can quickly become another form of indifference.


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At 11:52 AM, Blogger Mark said...

I've been spammed. Crap.

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Mark said...

I agree. How do we keep relevance from becoming indifference to the "other"?

At 12:17 PM, Blogger tali said...

by expanding the group of people we desire to be relevant to?

it's very easy for me to be relevant to middle class white kids. it's the closest point to where i began. but ease isn't the point, is it?

sooner or later, maybe i should walk away from my comfortable place, accept that my "performance" will suffer and begin the messy business of immersing myself in another community/culture. my performance isn't the point either.

At 12:29 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Good thoughts. What you describe is what the "mega-church" has done in many ways. They still have improvements to make, of course, but are trying to expand just as you say.

I just wonder if this will look different in emergent churches. Will it look like us releasing our need to be a place for "everyone" and instead, "specialize." And as we specialize in our local community, we celebrate the black church down the street who is "specializing" in their community. I am just not sure black churches are preaching sermons about needing more "diversity" in their churches, even though 99% of their congregation is of one race.

I am just trying to rethink the whole "diversity" argument. Maybe its ok that their church is all black. And if that is ok, then maybe its ok that my church is mostly white. Maybe its ok as long as its not born out of racism. Maybe its ok if its born out of "communal relevant specialization." I am not sure. But I am curious.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

I think you miss what Anthony(postmodernnegro) was trying to say Mark. By specializing in certain sub-cultures(our own) we leave unchallenged the unjust social structures that are in place. I know that I personally want to make a bigger impact in the world than to just have some new churches in certain sub-cultures.

Anthony has just put up a post that continues his thought. It's here on his blog.

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