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« Holiness in the 21st Century: George Barna | Main | The Church Will Succeed Despite Itself »

February 19, 2006


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Would Barna say the 'revolutionaries' are what we call 'missional' then? (I have not read Revolution.)


Yes, I think he would. Being missional would be one of several things ALL followers of Jesus "should" be, but which people in traditional churches by-and-large have failed to be. In part, this is what has led revolutionaries to leave traditional forms of 'church' and pursue their relationship with Christ elsewhere.

I wonder if Barna is less-than-impressed by the U.S. expressions of emerging church because what he's seen tends not to be missional but merely hip?

Hi Chris,

Thanks for sharing your lunch with us! =O)

I can't speak to Barna's comments re: the resurgence of people seeking more ancient expressions of faith, nor can I comment on his insights into neo-monasticism (though those are interesting, and I would like to hear more).

But this struck me: I wonder if his comments re: "Emergent" (or 'emergence' or 'emergents' in general) being "reactionary" had anything to do with what I saw in his book Revolution. What he sees as a moving away from Institutional Models altogether.

From my (admittedly narrow and uninformed) perspective, it seems while there are myriad expressions within Emergent, they are still seen by many people as "church, but different".

McLaren's church and Doug Pagitt's church and others still meet in "church buildings" (even if the building itself is cool and edgy and unchurch-like in it's setup, liturgy, etc.). Pastoral Staff and Office Staff and a building to meet in and ministries which are led by Ministry Leaders, etc

At Emergent '05 I remember McLaren quoting some stats. He said 15% of churches in North America are growing numerically. 85% are steady or in decline. He went on to say 90-95% of the growth in the 15% of churches was coming from the other 85%: "transfer growth" -- people waking up Sunday morning and saying "I want to go to church, but I want it to be different."

I should say up front I think that is perfectly great! I think it is a move of The Spirit shaking trees and moving people into deeper relationship with Jesus!!! *NOTHING* wrong with that!

But it did make me wonder: "What about the people who wake up on Sunday and *don't* think about 'going to' church at all?" People who have no interest in what "church" has come to represent in America: building campaigns and 'ministry projects' and such. Event-driven "come to us for spiritual things" church. Or even "We have the answers, so let us leave our nice white neighborhoods and come and help you poor homeless people in the city, or you poor lost people"...

Or worse: Closed-Minded Right-Wing Hypocriticalism. I'm not saying every church on the corner is like that -- but that is what Ned Flanders and the pastor character represent on The Simpsons -- and that is what 'church' on South Park is, and in many ways that is how many people have come to think of "church". Sadly, I think it is art imitating life when we see these models on TV and in movies.

So in Barna's book he paints two pictures that I noticed -- two types of "Revolutionaries":

1) People who assimilate into a hodge-podge of relational sets of people, each individual crafting his or her own spiritual smorgasbord. Not classic individualism per se, but many individuals participating in many loose sets, as opposed to one bound set with many people exclusively in it. People who don't point to any one group of people (let alone any one building) and say "that is my church" about only one thing -- but instead see many diverse aspects of their life and relationships as "this is my church, and this over here is also my church. And That and that and that -- all of these collectively make up my experience of the church; the body of Christ."

2) People who take 'church' to the people. Instead of building a church building and making it into a coffee house and opening it up as a rec center, people who instead choose to frequent the coffee house down the street from their office and the rec center down the street from their home, and relate to and give their lives away to the people they find there. Meeting in homes at various days and times and pooling funds to give away to the poor in their midst (if possible, at only one-degree of separation, like a group called "Relational Tithe").

Within the context of these two ideas of "being 'church'" it is easy for me to see how he would say "Emergent" churches are mainly reactionary since, in contrast to the ideas he describes as "Revolutionary" "emergent" churches still tend to be seen as "the same, just different" from "the church I grew up not liking to go to".

In one of his lectures online at, McLaren asserts (as we move from Modernity into PostModernity) we are beginning to move from "early transition" (defining ourselves against what was, with a lot of deconstructionism still present) and beginning to move into "late transition" (where we define ourselves by what we are becoming.)

I think, by and large, the "Emergent" folks with whom I have relationship would say they are defining themselves by what they are becoming (personally, as well as organizationally and congregationally).

But I also think, by and large, the *world* at large still sees "church" ("Emergent" or otherwise) as "something you go to" and so Barna sees it as reactionary and early-transition.

Just my $2.00 (I'm wordy, so I took up ten two-cents-worth there. Sorry about that!)

~ Keith


I'm not surprized he 'blew off' emergent. Yes Barna is a Christian. Yes he is 'studying' church trends.

But also he is a "writer/author" we seldomn speak 'well' of the competition.


I wonder if twenty years or so the revolutionaries will suddenly realize that they are missing something. Or maybe it will be the subsequent generation and not these people that Barna talks about. Maybe this something that they find they are missing is an intense, loyal connection to a specific body of believers... just a thought.

However, it seems to me that Barna's revolutionaries are "reacting" to the church just as the emerging church is reacting. Also, I know Barna concentrates on analyzing and interpreting statistically data but the examples of revolutionaries that he has given seem to me to be the exception rather than the norm. In the midwest at least, most people don't leave the church and intentionally involve themselves in a wide range of spiritual endeavors but simply allow "life" to crowd out "church activities." But then, I am somewhat biased in what I tend to observe (as we all are).

In Christ,

Keith, you may be on to something in differentiating between typical 'emerging' churches and Barna's idea of 'revolutionaries.' Revolutionaries want to 'be' the church in ways that are much closer to what the kingdom of God should look, and in so doing, pretty much write-off the institutional church. Although, Barna is quick to point out that revolutionaries are not "anti-church", which we HAVE seen plenty of in the vein McLaren has described as 'early transition' -- as you've pointed out.

I think that revolutionaries are, at their core, simply wanting to live their lives as followers of Jesus should: no games, no politics, no "slick" packaging -- just passionate followership. And as Jon pointed out as the discussion above began, revolutionaries are inherantly 'missional'. It's pretty hard to be a passionate follower of Jesus and not be - don't you think?

All of this has certainly forced me to confess: my angst toward YWAM in the 80's was largely unfounded and -- frankly -- embarrassing. But back then, I was eyebrow deep into the whole megachurch mentality.

Guess I've changed a lot more than I realize.


I don't know if you had a chance to read Christianity Today's article on Barna's new book "Revolution," but I think you'd find it addresses many of the concerns about "radical individualism" you've espoused recently. You can read it at -- would like to hear your reaction to "Revolution."

While reading Barna's “Revolution,” I was reminded of people I've known and interacted with over the past decade or so, who took mission into their own hands. We also took Bible study into our own hands. This was long before “Emergent.”

However, with Barna's research in mind, and looking back from a higher elevation, I began to see what looks like natural “emergence.” The kind of emergence that occurs when an element has been taking on increasing energy and is just starting to jump to the next quantum level. It is order forming out of chaos. It is the beginnings of a phase change.

So, I think that Barna is both right and wrong. So-called Emergent church is reactionary. Of course it is, it's mostly X-Gen which is a realistic, reactionary generation. However, there is still real emergence, from the sociological perspective. What ever it is, it will emerge from chaos when a significant number of Barna's “Revolutionaries” find one another. I'm studying all I can on this now because I want to help light the fuse. I'm tired of church as usual.

I think the problem isnt that there arent enough "revolutionaries".

The problem across the church is nominalism. And neither the "next big thing that we will market" or the Ancient-Future church can cure that.

"And neither the "next big thing that we will market" or the Ancient-Future church can cure that"

A whole lotta truth in that. Makes me remember the song:

"Jesus is the answer
for the world today;
above him there's no other,
Jesus is the way."

I have read Barna's newest book and thought it was ok. I think in the future that maybe this book will turn out to be insignificant when compared to emergent. Just my 2 cents.

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