I introduced Flory and Miller’s book, Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation, earlier this week. As sociologists, Flory and Miller have no axe to grind, thus I find their taxonomy of the emerging movement inherently more honest than mine or Kimball’s, Dricoll’s, McKnight’s, Pagitt’s, McLaren’s, or Stetzer’s.
And, honestly, they’re not really categorizing the movement, per se. They are looking at the ways that the post-Baby Boomer generations have religiously responded to the globalization/pluralism/postmodernism of the early 21st century. And one of the things they make clear beginning with their first book is that post-Boomer spirituality is significantly different than Boomer spirituality.
Their first category is actually the one into which they put the emerging church, and also existing churches that are dramatically rethinking their patterns of life and ministry.
After describing some of the same churches, authors, and networks that will be described below, Flory and Miller describe the ethos of the Innovators as a group of Christians who are “disillusioned or dissatisfied with the form of Christianity they have received,” and thus, “seeking a more holistic approach to faith that combines both the cognitive and a greater sense experience of the divine,” they are “almost completely uninterested in rational, propositional expressions of their faith.”
Noting that the Innovators are “solidly middle class,” Flory and Miller note that the critical faculties learned in college and graduate studies enable the Innovators to reflect critically on the patterns and institutions of Christian life inherited by their generation.
In this way, the Innovators offer the most radical break from Baby Boomer and Seeker Church Protestantism:
These groups, whether newer “emerging” churches or more established ones, frame their approach in contrast to what they see as an overly institutionalized and inwardly focused church, seeking instead one that is focused on building community, both within the religious group and with the surrounding community, and engaged in various ways with the larger culture.
These churches are innovating in terms of their responses to the larger culture, introducing forms of ritual and symbol into their worship services and creating new forms of religious life that emphasize community and belonging, as well as service both within the church and to the larger community.
From their observations, Flory and Miller list four primary characteristics of Innovator churches:
First, there is a prevalence of visual representations and expressions of the sacred; second, most of these congregations tend to be small in size and high in commitment; third, there is a general disinterest in established forms of religion; and fourth, there is both an inward experience and an outward expression of the spiritual.
They go on to conclude that the Innovators occupy a precarious position in American Protestantism, for they seem to face the possibilities of either becoming co-opted by institutionalized Christianity or fading from influence. To occupy a middle ground between these two, it seems, is unlikely.