Reconfiguring the System: A Sociological and Theological Enquiry into the Emergence of Network Church within the Church of England by
Rev Nicholas J Haigh B.A. (Hons) Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham
M.A. in Theology and Ministry Word Count: 11,989
‘This dissertation is a product of my own work, and the work of others has been properly acknowledged throughout.’
Contents Contents Page 2 Introduction Page 3 Chapter One: (Experience) The Development of Network Church within the Church of England Page 4 Chapter Two: (Exploration) A Sociological Description of Network Society Page 14 Chapter Three: (Reflection) A Theological Reflection on Network Church Page 22 Chapter Four: (Response) Network Church: A Reconfigured System Page 30 An Appendix â€“ A Transcript of an Interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams Page 36 Bibliography Page 40
The focus of this study is the emergence of the Network Church phenomenon within the Church of England over the last ten years or so. The study will assess this pattern of church life and it will consider the ecclesiology of this way of being church.
As a methodological basis, the study will use the experience, explore, reflect and respond method of practical theology, otherwise known as the pastoral cycle.
Chapter one (Experience) will define the concept of Network Church and map the growth and development of this way of being church within the Church of England.
Chapter two (Exploration) will describe the network society context that we seek to be the Christian Church in, using sociological studies by scholars such as Jan van Dijk, Manuel Castells, Albertâ€“Laszlo Barabasi and Robert Putnam.
Chapter three (Reflection) will then reflect theologically on the concept of Network Church.
Chapter four (Response) will respond to the issues raised in the preceding chapters. It will give a final assessment of Network Church and its future within the Church of England.
Chapter 1 (Experience)
The Development of Network Church within the Church of England In early January 2003 after what seemed like a well needed Christmas vacation (due in part to my first term at Theological College – a bit of a shock to the system!) I was back to work researching for my MATM Theological and Practical Reflection seminar. This seminar was to consider whether the Christian Church is an exclusive club or an inclusive missionary community. Whilst looking at the Reaching the Unchurched Network (RUN) website1 I came across a church plant called The Net Church, in Huddersfield, listed as one of the RUN members. I was intrigued to find this church as I am originally from Huddersfield and had not heard of it before. Soon after, I rang the Vicar of the church, Rev. Dave Male, to find out more. Later in that week I went to visit Dave and by the end of our time together we had provisionally arranged a four week placement at The Net Church, which I did in September 2003. Throughout my placement at The Net, I gained the distinct impression that this way of being church was going someway to being an inclusive missionary community. I therefore became increasingly interested in the Net’s way of being church and this interest has led me to this piece of research.
The Net Church is what Rev. George Lings and others have described as a ‘Network Church’.2 Network Church is church, where the explicit intention is that the social networks (that is relationships) which the people who are part of the church have and live in, are the primary ministry and mission opportunity for that group of people. This is in contrast to parish church where the primary ministry and mission opportunity, or strategy, for a congregation is the specific
http://www.run.org.uk/home.aspx accessed 03/01/03 It is not clear where, or by whom, the term ‘Network Church’ was first used. My understanding is that it was either Rev. George Lings or Bishop Graham Cray who first coined the phrase within the Church of England context. 2
geographical area, or parish. In one sense, Network Church is church that takes extremely seriously the 1990’s research by John Finney that suggested the majority of people who come to faith do so through and in relationship (or network) with others who are already Christian’s.3 It must be said though, that the lessons of Finney’s research and of Network Church are not just helpful for those who are involved in ‘special’ Network Church plants. These lessons are helpful to all wanting to be involved in a fruitful ministry in the 21st century.
George Lings says that, ‘Network Church exists for all people whose lives are connected by a whole host of relationships.’4 Lings continues by pointing out that Network church, ‘…draws people whose domestic address may be someway away from where the church happens to meet. Not because they are being eclectic5 – but because those people have significant bits of their lives in connection with those running the church.’6 Those significant bits, or interests, could be sport, business, the internet, parenting or cultural interests, like clubbing or art. Dave Male says that Network Church is ‘intentionally networked’, as apposed to an eclectic parish church, ‘…that might work through network, but actually it kind of does that almost by, not a deliberate policy, its just the way it ends up working… Network Church is working that way deliberately.’7
The Network way of being church represents a very large shift of thinking for the Church of England. A long standing principle of Anglicanism has been its commitment to be a church that incarnates itself into the locality where people live. Therefore, under the parochial system, the whole of the country is split into parishes where each parish church exists for everyone who lives within that parish. The Network way of being church however, takes into consideration the cultural changes that have taken place in our society over the last 100 years or so: the invention of the motor car and computers, to name just two. These things have influenced the way that we live. They have 3
Finney, J., Finding Faith Today (London: Bible Society, 1992) Interview with George Lings 5 The word ‘eclectic’ when used to describe a church within the Church of England refers to a parish church that has a congregation that gathers from the wider geographical area, usually because of a certain style of worship or preaching and not intentionally because of the relationships people find there. 6 Interview with George Lings 7 Interview with Dave Male 4
lessened the importance of geographical ‘place’ in our lives and have given us more of a focus on the networks that we exist within, that is, the relationships we have in life. The Network way of being church does not change the long standing Anglican incarnational ecclesiology of church but it enhances it and develops the breadth of its ministry to all. Through a process of practical theology, Network Church takes into account the way in which many people live their lives. Arguably this way of being church makes the Church of England actually more genuinely incarnational and therefore more Anglican in nature.
The history of the Network Church phenomenon is described by George Lings in terms of chapters or generations.8 I will here set out a detailed, albeit incomplete, history of the development of the phenomenon within the Church of England.
The first generation is the growth of Network Churches from the grass roots, that is, from the instincts of individual parishes and pioneer leaders. The ancestry of these church plants can be traced back as far as the 1920’s. At that time we see the start of the realisation that the parochial system was becoming a little outmoded, ‘…with the granting of full parochial rights to those beyond a parish, who qualify by attendance to join its electoral role.’9 The granting of full parochial rights to those living beyond a parish was the acknowledgement of the possibility of different ways of being church in the Church of England at large. This development, alongside the increase in travel possibilities (mentioned above) saw the growth of gathered or, ‘eclectic’ churches from as long ago as 30 to 50 years ago.10
In 1994 the General Synod of the Church of England was presented with a Board of Mission report called, Breaking New Ground: Church Planting in the Church of England. This report was written in response to the continuing story of the growth of the first generation of Network Churches in England. At that time, church planting as a method of evangelism was not new but was being 8
Interview with George Lings Lings, George, Encounters on the Edge No. 7: New Canterbury Tales (Sheffield: Church Army, 1999) p. 4 10 Interview with George Lings 9
rediscovered by people who were seeking to reach out in love to the communities where God had placed them. Breaking New Ground says that between 1985 and 1993 there were at least 177 churches planted in the Church of England. Four of these 177 churches created some concerns in neighbouring parishes and dioceses as they had moved beyond the parish boundaries of the sending church without the consent of the relevant authorities.11 The Breaking New Ground report was written as a good practice guide for those who were being led to church planting as a method of evangelism.
In the first chapter of the report subtitled, ‘A Vision of Church: Territory, Neighbourhood and Network’, we find a recognition, ‘…that human life is lived in a complex array of networks and that the neighbourhoods where people reside may hold only a very minor loyalty.’12 This chapter tells of how the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, spoke at the 1991 Church Planting Conference of how, ‘Our Anglican understanding of the church is rooted in Episcopal leadership and parochial structure.’13 The chapter goes on, ‘The church planting movement makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate about how these features of the life of the Church of England (Episcopal leadership and the parochial structure) are lived out in contemporary society, and how that life can be accessible to the widest range of people.’14 If we look back at the historical reasons for the parochial structure, we will see that the structure was about, ‘…ensuring that the Church is earthed in the life of the community and accepts responsibility for all.’15 That said, and with the above recognition of the complex array of networks that people live in, the report acknowledges the need to attend, ‘…to the fact that such rootedness in community may need to express itself in ways that go beyond the bounds of the territorial parish.’16 Tricia Voute in an article on Rootedness comments that, ‘The problem with being rooted in a piece of land (be it a region or nation) is that its geographical borders become its social, cultural and psychological 11
Church of England, Board of Mission, Breaking New Ground (London: Church House Publishing, 1994) p. 1, 50 12 Breaking New Ground p. 3 13 Carey, George, et al., Planting New Churches – Guidelines and Structures for Developing Tomorrow’s Churches (Guildford: Eagle, 1991) p. 25 14 Breaking New Ground p. 3 15 Breaking New Ground p. 3 16 Breaking New Ground p. 3
borders as well.’17 Point 1.9 of Breaking New Ground says, ‘We need therefore to find ways to enable diverse styles of church life to co-exist without always having recourse to territorial, or even denominational, boundaries.’18
For George Lings in New Canterbury Tales points out that the Breaking New Ground report gives a clear endorsement of the Network way of being church. He comments, ‘It is a Magna Carta underwriting life beyond the parish boundary, which all prospective network planters need to master… the report came to be written because of cross boundary church plants. What has happened since is the birth of the non boundary church plant.’19 That is, the Network Church plant.
Two of the first generation Network Church plants are in Deal, Kent and Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
The Carpenter’s Arms, Deal began life in 1994. The church was a plant from St. George’s, Deal, one of four parish churches serving the town. After a period of numerical growth St. George’s settled at 80% of its capacity in 1989. A parish weekend in 1992 focused on church planting and later that year the church was led to look more closely at what God might be calling them to do in Deal. Of this time Lings writes, ‘During the summer of 1992 a sermon …had struck a resonant note… I coined the analogy that most Anglican worship is suited for people from Radio 3 and Radio 4 cultures. I highlighted the need for supplementary Church of England congregations for people identifying with Radio 1 and Radio 2 – different styles of communication, irrespective of class or intelligence.’20 After much prayer, thought and discussion with the other local churches and the diocese, Bishop Gavin Reid launched The Carpenter’s Arms as a Deanery wide initiative on Oct 8th 1994.21 The church met in a youth club building in
Voute, Tricia, ‘Putting Up Roots’, Third Way, March 2004, p. 12-15 Breaking New Ground p. 3-4 19 Lings, New Canterbury Tales p. 5 20 Lings, New Canterbury Tales p. 6 21 As far as I am aware this was the first church planting initiative in the Church of England to be referred to as a Network Church. That said, in October 1993 at the invitation of the Bishop of Willesden, fifty members of St Barnabas Church, Kensington began a new, experimental church called Oak Tree Anglican Fellowship. Oak Tree was different from a traditional parish church. It is described on its website as, ‘Having no set geographical boundaries, Oak Tree 18
another parish in the town, with the blessing of the local incumbent. The room was set out more like a café or pub, with chairs around tables to create a more relaxed atmosphere. No books were used; words for songs and liturgy were projected by over-head projector. Lings says, ‘The aim was to try to be cringe free for newcomers, chiming in with Seeker style.’22 The story of the first years of The Carpenter’s Arms is not all positive. There were hard times, but generally the blessing far out weighed the pain and difficulties associated with church planting.
The Net Church describes itself as, ‘… part of the Church of England in Huddersfield, but with no geographical parish.’23 The Church website says, ‘We aim to help people deal with the realities of everyday life, exploring the big questions in a comfortable and relaxed environment.’24 After a visit to The Net Church, Wakefield Cathedral’s Canon Missioner wrote the following: ‘This church without walls recognises that in today’s mobile society to many people, ‘community’ is no longer based on a locality, but on networks and relationships. The Net’s overarching vision is to seek to reach the non-churched, the many in our society who rarely or never attend any kind of religious service.’25 In all that The Net Church does, it seeks to put first those who want to find out about God. From the small groups, to the Sunday services, to the bi-monthly evangelistic events, the structure and style of the church is set up to be as welcoming as possible to the seeker.26 It is important to say however, that with this emphasis on the seeker The Net does not lose the spiritual depth of services and events. The difference between The Net and many other congregations is that people do not have to leave their cultural identity at the door of where they meet. The Net relates to many people’s contemporary lives and therefore the relationship they have with others. It relates to the lives of many who do not see the significance of more traditional church. These points are illustrated well through the occurrences of a normal Sunday morning sees the whole of Acton, with its 85,000 residents, as its mission area.’ This would seem to be describing a Network Church. See www.oaktree.org.uk/index1.htm accessed 17/08/04. 22 The idea of Seeker style services came from Willow Creek Church in America. Lings, New Canterbury Tales p. 9 23 http://www.netchurch.org.uk/whatis.html accessed 16/04/04 24 http://www.netchurch.org.uk/whatis.html accessed 16/04/04 25 Taken from a paper written by Canon John Holmes after a Mission Visit to The Net, dated 01/09/03. 26 The Net takes its emphasis on small groups from Cell church principals and it uses many aspects of Willow Creek style seeker services in its other events.
service at The Net in 2002 when a now small group leader at the church, Angela, felt so at ease with the environment that she got up in the middle of the service and asked to say something. Dave Male tells the story, ‘I was coming to the end of my sermon when a woman raised her hand: 'Dave, can I say something? I just want to tell everyone that I want to become a follower of Jesus.' Not long after that she was baptized, along with her two daughters - and, in a kind of domino effect, three other women came to faith.’27 Dave later discovered that Heather, his wife, had met and prayed for Angela some nine years earlier when, ‘…as two very pregnant mums who caught one another’s eyes (they) laughed and commiserated together, before walking separate ways.’28 Lings says, ‘It is no accident that the Males had lived five years in Huddersfield before The Net was started. Heather’s work in Occupational Therapy, their presence at the school gate and the gym all slowly build networks.’29 And Angela’s story seems to be a result of one of those networks.
The second generation of the history of Network Church is still being written. As far as can be seen, this generation is about the intentional planting of Network Churches by individual dioceses. This does not mean to say that the time of grassroots planting of Network churches by individual churches and leaders is over, by no means. The second generation describes the subsequent period in the growth of the phenomenon in the Church of England at large.
As far as I am aware, the first steps in this second generation of Network church planting were taken by the Diocese of Birmingham.30 In April 2000 the diocesan missioner and Suffragan Bishop asked the diocesan staff to consider creating a new full-time post, City Centre Deanery Missioner. This post was a proactive step to look at what could be done about the serious gap in those attending church from the 20’s and 30’s age group.31 As all this was being discussed at the diocesan level, Geoff Lanham, a senior curate at St. John’s, 27
http://www.netchurch.org.uk/CLArticle.html accessed 16/04/04 Lings, George, Encounters on the Edge No.19: Net Gains (Sheffield: Church Army, 2003) p. 14 29 Lings, Net Gains p. 15 30 Interview with George Lings 31 Lings, Net Gains p. 17 28
Harborne, was taking a sabbatical looking at the implications of postmodernity in reaching non-church people.32 At the end of Geoff’s study the diocesan missioner asked him to consider the new post the diocese had by then agreed upon. Geoff says that after his meeting with the missioner, ‘I went away and prayed and thought if I never did it, I’d regret it!’33 This was the initial development of what is now known as B1 Church, Birmingham. Many of B1’s meetings are held in pubs and hotels of the Broad Street area of Birmingham, the area of the city centre that many of the church frequent through work and leisure. Geoff says the church is a Network Church and, ‘... people come because they perhaps see people in the church who fit … the sort of subculture that they belong to, or people with whom they have a common interest.’34 B1’s vision statement talks about, ‘… a community of young adults finding and strengthening faith within contemporary cultures.’35 Geoff sees ‘community’ as key to the continued growth and development of this Network Church.36 B1 uses many lessons learnt from the alternative worship scene.
Since the conception and early development of B1, Oxford, Lichfield and York Diocese have all begun similar projects. These church plants are at very early stages: their leaders Matt Rees, Gordon Crowther and Michelle McBride have been in post not more than twelve months.37 These ventures are similar in that Matt, Gordon and Michelle are new to their respective dioceses and so their first task will include identifying the networks / relationships that the new church communities will work in and through. In my interview with George Lings he expressed a concern with the Lichfield and York projects as, the starting group of planters may be too small and that could create problems.38
Interview with Geoff Lanham Interview with Geoff Lanham 34 Interview with Geoff Lanham 35 Lings, Net Gains p. 18 36 Interview with Geoff Lanham 37 I have spoken with all three leaders with regard to these ventures. Details of the Diocese of Oxford plant can be seen at www.home-online.org 38 Lings was relating the two projects to the experience at Tommy’s, a network church plant based in Nottingham that started in 1996 not long after The Carpenter’s Arms. Tommy’s started well, then plateaued and eventually closed in 2000. It was assessed that this was due in part to the starting team not being large enough. Lings says, ‘… when the natural contacts of the people in the team were exhausted they didn’t actually have the capability to generate further contacts. So, there’s a sense in which the pool in which they were fishing dried up.’ Lings gave a short assessment of the Tommy’s story in the interview I had with him. It can also be found in: Lings, Net Gains p. 6-8 33
In one sense the next stage in the second generation of Network Church was the publication of the Church of England Board of Mission report, MissionShaped Church, in February 2004.39 In his introduction of the report to the General Synod, Bishop Graham Cray, said that the Mission-Shaped Church report was, ‘… primarily a report on what the Church of England is already doing in many dioceses, rather than a recommendation that it begin something novel.’40 The Mission-Shaped Church working group was set up to provide a review of the Breaking New Ground report we referred to above. The group were to assess any progress in the Church of England’s church planting and consider any new developments in this area of mission.
Mission-Shaped Church was welcomed enthusiastically at General Synod as was the review of the Pastoral Measure41 to allow the continued legal growth of fresh expressions of church within the Church of England – Network Church being one of these fresh expressions.42 The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the Church of England being at a Kairos moment in its history:43 a pivotal moment where we are, ‘… poised for serious growth and renewal… We are at a real watershed.’44 In an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury about Network Church I was able to ask him why he thought we were at such an important time. He commented,
‘I think this is really the first opportunity we had as a whole church of taking cognisance of what’s been going on in bits and pieces around the country and when you put all that together and you see the range of new initiatives going on, I think it becomes very clear indeed that there is far more than we’ve ever noticed. When I was a bishop in Wales we had Bob and Mary Hopkins from the Church Planting Mission to visit the diocese and they told us that we had 39
Church of England, Board of Mission, Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004) 40 This is taken from a copy of Bishop Graham’s final draft of his speech to Synod, which I was given by him as I held a brief interview with him before the speech to Synod. 41 Diocese and Pastoral Measure Working Group, Archbishop’s Council, A Measure for Measures: In Mission and Ministry (London: Church House Publishing, 2004) 42 The term, ‘fresh expressions of church’ is a term used in Mission-Shaped Church. It is used to refer to all the different shapes of church that MSC talks about. It was used because of its non-use by other networks within the church; therefore, the new activity cannot be linked to just one theological camp within the church. The term also has a clear link to the preface of the Declaration of Assent which, refers to the faith, ‘…which the church is called to proclaim afresh in each generation.’ This has a direct link to the shape of the local church that MSC is concerned with. 43 Taken from Archbishop Rowan’s speech to Synod about the Mission-Shaped Church report 44 Mission-Shaped Church p. vii
more than a dozen church plants and we didn’t really know or, we hadn’t identified them as such. Now I think you can multiply that for the whole country in a way and that’s why I feel, (a) there’s an awful lot going on, (b) this is a very good moment for recognising what’s going on and, (c) a very good moment then for asking ourselves, so what do we do about it? And I would really encourage it because this seems to be where the edge of the growth area is in many areas.’45 Network Church is, ‘… church that is intentionally aiming to work through networks of relationships that are to do with friendship… But also relationships in terms of reaching into specific networks of people, like sport, or work, or marriage, or parenting…’46 As we have seen in the above examples Network Church is not a specifically definable form of church, in that it borrows aspects of its nature from other models of church like cell, seeker and alternative congregations. The key to understanding Network Church is grasping the fact that it is about a move from where people are, to how people are.47 This is surely a way of being church that the Church of England needs to learn from, and make use of if its mission and ministry are to be fruitful in the twenty-first century.
Interview with Archbishop Rowan Williams Interview with Dave Male 47 Taken from PowerPoint presentation by Bishop Graham Cray presented at New Wine Leaders Conference, May 2004. 46
Chapter 2 (Exploration)
A Sociological Description of Network Society
As I mentioned in the previous chapter the Church of England’s Breaking New Ground report recognises that, ‘…human life is lived in a complex array of networks and that the neighbourhoods where people reside may hold only a very minor loyalty.’48 The report continues, ‘…it is possible to see that it is networks which are now the communities to which we feel a predominant loyalty.’49 This is an acknowledgement of the influence that networks have on our life: it is recognition of ‘network society’. Chapter two of this study will describe the network society context within which we seek to be the Christian Church using sociological studies by scholars such as Jan van Dijk, Manuel Castells, Albert–Laszlo Barabasi and Robert Putnam.
The term ‘network society’, is used by social scientists to refer to the many ways in which networks influence society’s life. Networks have, and are still bringing about cultural change for humankind, causing, ‘…the emergence of a new social structure.’50 Jan van Dijk says that, ‘A network is a connection between at least three elements, points or units.’51 Network society, he says, is, ‘…a form of society increasingly organizing its relationships in media networks which are gradually replacing or complementing the social networks of face-to-face communication. This means that social and media networks are shaping the prime mode of organisation and the most important structures of modern society.’52 Manuel Castells agrees with this, but goes further in his definition by saying that ‘Networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies, and the 48
Breaking New Ground p. 3 Breaking New Ground p. 3 50 Mission-Shaped Church p. 4 51 Dijk, Jan van, The Network Society (London: Sage, 1999) p. 28 52 Dijk, Jan van, The Network Society p. 220 49
diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operation and outcomes in processes of production, experience, power, and culture.’53
An early stage of humankind’s understanding of networks can be traced back to the mathematician Leonhard Euler who, ‘… inadvertently started an immense branch of mathematics known as graph theory.’54 Whilst amusing himself writing a paper on a Prussian town’s mind puzzle, ‘Can one walk across the (towns) seven bridges and never cross the same one twice?’,55 he made the discovery that, ‘The construction and structure of graphs or networks is the key to understanding the complex world around us. Small changes in the topology, affecting only a few of the nodes and links, can open up hidden doors, allowing new possibilities to emerge.’56 Two centuries later Paul Erdos and Alfred Renyi moved graph theory from studying the properties of various graphs to, ‘… asking the quintessential question of how graphs, or, more commonly, networks, came about. Indeed, how do real networks form?’57 Through studying a group of people at a party, Erdos and Renyi told us that it requires only one link per node to stay connected as a random network.58They concluded that after placing a critical number of links between isolated groups you get, ‘… a giant cluster, joined by almost everybody.’59 This point is taken for granted today, but at that time it changed mathematical understanding completely and their random network theory, ‘… has dominated scientific thinking about networks since’.60
In the early twentieth century Frigyes Karinthy, one of Hungary’s most celebrated writers, wrote a short story about the interconnectivity of the people of the world. ‘Karinthy’s 1929 insight that people are linked by at most five 53
Castells, M, The Rise of the Network Society (London: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2 ed. 2000) p. 500 54 Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo, Linked: The New Science of Networks (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Publishing, 2002) p. 10 55 Barabasi, Linked p. 10 Brackets added. 56 Barabasi, Linked p. 12 ‘A node is a point in a graph or network at which lines or pathways intersect or branch.’ The New Oxford Dictionary p. 1257 57 Barabasi, Linked p. 13 58 That is to say, it only takes one person (node) to communicate (link) with one other person in the group to produce a random network. The childhood game where a group of people all grab hold of other peoples hands in the group and then the group try and unravel themselves enables us to see something of what Erdos and Renyi showed. 59 Barabasi, Linked p. 18 60 Barabasi, Linked p. 23
links was the first published appearance of the concept we know today as “six degrees of separation.”’61 In various American universities in the late 1960’s the study of the structure of social networks became very popular. The sociologist Stanley Milgram set out ‘…to find the “distance” between any two people in the United States.’62 He asked, ‘…how many acquaintances would it take
experimentation he discovered that it took on average 5.5 people to link two people in the United States. It is pure coincidence that it was near Karinthy’s number. Later, through rounding the number up, the term ‘six degrees of separation’ was first used as the title of a 1991 play on Broadway. Following the popularity of the play this concept has now been said to relate to the whole of the world and not just the United States as Milgram demonstrated.64 ‘Six degrees of separation … suggests that, despite our society’s enormous size, it can easily be navigated by following social links from one person to another.’65 If then we bear in mind Erdos and Renyi’s demonstration that it only takes one link to create a random network, ‘As we all have many more than one link, each of us is a part of a giant network that we call society.’66
The above historical background lets us see the way in which the technological advances that lie behind our network society context are largely a development of the way human society is linked, or naturally networked. Barabasi says that the six degrees of separation concept is a product of our modern society. He gives the example of how the ancestors of most Americans lost contact with their networks when they moved from their old countries. ‘In the subtle social network of those days, it was rather difficult to activate the links that had been broken when people moved.’67 But, as the postal system, the telephone and various methods of transport were invented the numbers of links that people were able to maintain increased and therefore, ‘The global village we’ve grown used to inhabiting is a new reality for humans.’68 On top of the above advances, the invention of the computer 61
Barabasi, Linked p. 27 Barabasi, Linked p. 27 63 Barabasi, Linked p. 27 64 Barabasi, Linked p. 29 65 Barabasi, Linked p. 30 66 Barabasi, Linked p. 30 67 Barabasi, Linked p. 39 68 Barabasi, Linked p. 39 62
and internet has also increased the number of links between people and therefore, ‘Our ability to reach people has less and less to do with the physical distance between us.’69 The introduction of the computer and the internet, Barabasi suggests, has probably lessened the degrees of separation between people even more. ‘Milgram estimated six. Karinthy five. We could be much closer these days to three.’70
‘In a network society the importance of place is secondary to the importance of “flows”. It is flows of information, images and capital that increasingly shape society.’71 The term ‘flows’, refers to the ‘links’ that connect people together. Manuel Castells says that in a network society, ‘… the power of flows takes precedence over the flows of power.’72 That is to say, the networking mode of social organisation has existed in other times and spaces but, ‘… the new information technology paradigm provides the material basis for its pervasive expansion throughout the entire social structure.’73 Alan Roxburgh says, ‘Culture is now an organised diversity with little sense of defining centre.’74
Castells’ comment about the power of flows taking priority over the flows of power is an important one if we are to understand the full extent to which information technology has affected us, both positively and negatively. He uses the example of the global economy to illustrate this. In the network society, the financial systems of the world reside in a process, rather than in a place. London, Frankfurt, Tokyo and others are all linked together by millions of different links and nodes. These links and nodes are so numerous and create so many networks between companies and customers that they form the beginning of the process of the network society. These links and nodes become the essential places where the flows of information happen, and not the geographic places of individual cities or towns. Therefore, the power of flows is important: network society enables a series of flows and these flows shape contemporary society. ‘Our society is constructed around flows: flows of
Barabasi, Linked p. 40 Barabasi, Linked p. 39 71 Mission-Shaped Church p. 5 72 Castells, M, The Rise of the Network Society p. 500 73 Castells, M, The Rise of the Network Society p. 500 74 Roxburgh, A., The Missionary Congregation, Leadership and Liminality (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1997) p. 13 70
capital, flows of information, flows of technology, flows of organisational interaction, flows of images, sounds, and symbols.’75
It is here that we can now begin to see a few of the negative aspects of network society, ‘The flow of activity and information includes and excludes as it finds its flows through the system.’76 Barabasi uses the illustration of the internet to show this.77 He highlights the divide between the technological rich and technological poor, who do not have access to the networks and its flows, demonstrating the inclusion and exclusion created by the internet.78 This global society that we live in is more connected or networked, more mobile and has more freedom of choice than earlier generations, and yet at the same time it is more fragmented and exclusive. ‘Mobility has become a major marker of inclusion or exclusion. Those who cannot move increasingly identify their deprivation in these terms. They are ‘stuck’ where they live, and feel they cannot enjoy life or express themselves fully or get a good job without the ability to maximise the opportunities that are available to mobile people.’79 Robert Putnam is a social commentator who has written extensively and critically on the connections that come about in a network society. He comments, ‘In recent years social scientists have framed concerns about the changing character of American society in terms of the concept of “social capital.”’80 Social capital is the theory that says social networks have value, like a screwdriver or a university education has value in physical or human ways. Putnam says ‘…social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups.’81 He says, ‘Of all the dimensions along which forms of social capital vary, perhaps the most important is the distinction between bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive).’82 ‘Bridging’ social capital describes outward looking networks that encompass people across diverse social boundaries. ‘Bonding’ social capital is inward looking and reinforces exclusive identities and homogeneous networks. ‘Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a 75
Castells, M., The Rise of the Network Society p. 442 Ward, P., Liquid Church (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002) p. 43 77 The whole of Barabasi, Linked: The New Science of Networks, seeks to demonstrate this. 78 Mission-Shaped Church p. 5 79 Mission-Shaped Church p. 6 80 Putnam, Robert D., Bowling Alone (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000) p. 18 81 Putnam, Robert D., Bowling Alone p. 19 82 Putnam, Robert D., Bowling Alone p. 22 76
sociological WD-40.’83 One example of bonding social capital is that found in a church that has no vision for any kind of ministry or service outside its own people and is more likely to function as a social club for its members. An example of bridging social capital would be that found in what a Network Church is seeking to do. A Network Church’s explicit aim is to not break the bridges (links) between those in the church network (nodes) and those in the church members other social networks (nodes). It could however, be argued that Network church is more bonding social capital focused as by its very nature it highlights certain interest groups. That said arguably Network Church creates more ‘bridging’ social capital than ‘bonding’. Putnam says that all social capital is good for a society, but bridging social capital is without a doubt better than bonding social capital due to the inclusive and exclusive nature of the two.
Putnam’s identification of differing types of social capital gives us a helpful way to see the positive and negative aspects of a network society. The increase in mobility and the technological advances that we have seen over the past years has enlarged the possibilities for growth in society’s social capital bank, that is, if the advances are used in a constructive, inclusive way. However, the increase in fragmentation that has come about, as mentioned above, is a clear sign that the increase in mobility and technology has not been used in an entirely constructive way. There has not been enough emphasis on aspects of bridging social capital and therefore, we have facts and figures that say there has been a massive drop in society’s social capital bank.84 As I mentioned above, Putnam points out that an increase in social capital is positive for society at large, but an increase in bridging social capital, which is better in the longer term, is much harder to create than that of bonding social capital.85 If our society is to be a healthy network society, it needs to have more focus on bridging social capital, as opposed to bonding social capital. This is to a certain extent self explanatory, as we know that an inclusive group or network is far healthier than an exclusive one.86 In his latest 83
Putnam, Robert D., Bowling Alone p. 23 See Putnam, Robert D., Bowling Alone or www.bowlingalone.com for a clear summary of the facts and figures. 85 www.bettertogether.org/pressrelease.htm accessed 11/05/04 86 See my TPR essay on The Christian Church: Exclusive Club or Inclusive Missionary Community for an investigation of this. 84
book87 Putnam deals with many different companies and organisations that have increased American social capital stocks through a whole variety of different ways. He says, ‘The benefits of social capital spill beyond the people immediately involved in the network and can be used for many other purposes…’88 ‘Each of the stories in Better Together illustrates the extraordinary power and subtlety of social networks for enabling people to improve their lives.’89 Two excellent examples Putnam uses are Saddleback Church in California and All Saints Church in Pasadena. ‘Saddleback is a highly successful evangelical Christian megachurch, with some 45,000 members and a sprawling complex of facilities on 74 acres of land. Yet it manages to turn its vast crowd of “seekers” into a genuine congregation, and then into committed, core members, by fostering real community through intentionally organizing congregants into hundreds of small groups.’90 At All Saints Church, a very different, theologically liberal Episcopalian Church, the ‘…staff also adopted the small-group idea as part of their growth plan, recognising that pastoral care and personal connection would depend more on the small communities within the greater community as the church got bigger.’91
The increases in mobility and technological advances that have brought about the network society that we are a part of are here to stay. Robert Putnam and his colleagues are seeking to further the positive aspects of network society and it is of vital importance that the church grasps hold of these and not run from them. If the Church of England wants to have a voice in network society, to speak prophetically into the context, it will need to take seriously the above points of view and particularly these words of Manuel Castells. ‘What I call the ‘network society’ is simply a society made up of networks. It’s a society in which everything that counts, the economy, technology, politics, the media, social movements and interpersonal relations, is increasingly made out of information-technology powered networks.’92 87
Putnam, Robert D. and Lewis M. Feldstein, Better Together (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003) 88 Putnam, Robert D. and Lewis M. Feldstein, Better Together p. 269 89 www.bettertogether.org/pressrelease.htm accessed 11/05/04 90 http://www.bettertogether.org/pressrelease.htm 91 Putnam, Robert D. and Lewis M. Feldstein, Better Together p. 136-137 92 Castells, M. and B. Catterall, The Making of the Network Society (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2001) p. 8
Network church is church that is seeking to take seriously Castells, Barabasi and Putnam’s insights into society and in doing so is seeking to be configured differently to the traditional parish model of church. It is seeking to do this by holding the Christian gospel and the Network society context hand in hand.93 Vincent Donovan, a Catholic missionary who came back to the West uses the following statement to comment on encountering the youth of the West: ‘…do not try to call them back to where they were, and do not try to call them to where you are, beautiful as that place may seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have been before.’94 This is where network church seeks to be. Alan Roxburgh says that in the missionary church, ‘The place of leadership is … at the leading edge … modelling engagement with the culture in the name of the gospel.’95 Network church is seeking to be at that leading edge, modelling engagement with culture in the name of the gospel. It may not succeed at this goal for a long time, but through its seeking to re-evangelise the nation it is hoped that it will get there.
I am not saying here that more traditional parish church is not seeking to be shaped by the Christian gospel, but in many cases it is not seeking to be shaped by network society. 94 Donovan, V., Christianity Rediscovered (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1978, 1982) p. vii 95 Roxburgh, A., The Missionary Congregation, Leadership and Liminality p. 64
Chapter Three (Reflection)
A Theological Reflection on Network Church
Chapter three will reflect theologically on the concept of Network Church. It was expected that a key focus for this chapter would have been a close critique of the Church of England Board of Mission Report, Mission-Shaped Church. Since publication of the work though, it has been revealed that Mission-Shaped Church provides a good, albeit broad theology of mission. This is a useful reflection on the wide variety of fresh expressions of church that Mission-Shaped Church comments on. However, the report does not present a specific theological reflection on Network Church. Therefore, this chapter will seek to do that by offering reflections on John 15, the vine discourse; Acts 2 to 4 and the widely acknowledged notion of koinonia, and issues of inculturation / contextualization, which are written about in MissionShaped Church.
The Vine Metaphor and Network Church
The metaphor of the vine to describe the people of God is found in many places throughout the Old and New Testament.96 Our focus for this reflection will be in John’s gospel. Before we reflect on John’s vine discourses, it is important to acknowledge that, ‘…the main category for understanding the Gospel is revelation …Put another way, the major issue in this Gospel is Christology and soteriology, not ecclesiology.’97 That said, the core of the vine
See ‘Vine, Vineyard’, in L. James, C. Wilhoit, T. Longman III (ed.), Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Leicester: IVP, 1998) for a survey of Old and New Testament usage of the vine metaphor. 97 Witherington, B., John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Forth Gospel (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1995) p. 257
metaphor found in John 15 can facilitate and help our reflection on network church well.
John 15:1-16 is the second of three sections that make up Jesus’ farewell discourse recorded in the gospel.98 Carson splits John 15:1-16 in two and comments, ‘The links between vv. 1-8 and vv. 9-16 are intricate. Both sections speak of ‘remaining’, the first of remaining in the vine/Jesus, the second of remaining in Jesus’ love (vv. 4-7, 9-10). Both hold up fruitfulness as the disciples’ goal (vv. 5, 16); both tie such fruitfulness to prayer (vv. 7-8, 16). And both sections are built around a change in salvation-historical perspective, i.e. both depend on a self-conscious change from the old covenant to the new: under the image of the vine, Israel gives way to Jesus, and under the impact of fresh revelation, ‘servants’ give way to ‘friends’ (v. 15).’99 The ‘remaining’ (or ‘abiding’ as in the NRSV) that Carson comments on springs out of the relationship between the true vine and the vine-grower, that is Jesus and the Father. There is a firm connection, or link, here between Jesus and God the Father. Out of that connection grow branches which need to remain in, or abide in, the vine to live and be fruitful. The branches symbolise Jesus’ disciples and therefore, in verse 5 we see Jesus’ reinforcement of the ‘I am’ saying found in 15:1: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.’ Leon Morris says, ‘…vital contact with the vine is essential for fruit-bearing. When a branch is pruned part of it is removed. The part that will bear fruit is the part that remains in living contact with the vine.’100
This passage from John’s gospel offers a biblical metaphor related to the ecclesiological nature of network church. The central node or hub of the network is Jesus, with his many connections or links spreading out to the other nodes, the disciples. The task of these nodes (the disciples) is to remain in connection with the central node (Jesus), and to let the life of the central
Witherington, B., John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Forth Gospel p. 244 Carson, D.A., The Gospel According to John (Leicester: Apollos, 1991) p. 510 100 Morris, L., Reflections on the Gospel of John (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000) p. 518 99
node flow to other potential nodes (those who are part of the disciples social networks) thus producing fruit. ‘A network-based church cannot be planned. It must grow. People who are looking for God will connect to the network because it offers what they want.’101
The importance of flow in a network church is also seen in Jesus’ vine imagery. As was pointed out in Mission-Shaped Church, ‘In a network society the importance of place is secondary to the importance of ‘flows’. It is flows of information, images and capital that increasingly shape society.’102 Therefore, where John 15: 4 says, ‘Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.’, we see a reflection of the importance of flows in network church. Much like the vine, ‘The networked church would connect individuals, groups, and organisations in a series of flows. Connection would gather around hubs and would be made up of connecting nodes. A hub might be a retreat centre, a sports team, a music group, a record company, a Christian shop, and so on. Connection to individuals and groups would involve sharing the life of God in a variety of ways.’103 The vine imagery even includes something of the more negative, exclusive, aspects of the network society: those who are not part of the vine, or who fail to remain in it are excluded. This said, it must be pointed out that this exclusion obviously does not come about because of the vine not wanting to grow and produce fruit on the branches: it comes about because the branches do not remain in the vine and therefore do not bear fruit. This helpfully encapsulates something of the disciples’ (the churches) responsibility for growth through mission and evangelism. As the Missio Dei
up, it is not the church’s mission to the world, but it is the church’s job to continue, ‘… participating in God’s mission to the world.’105 The network church way of being allows for and enables disciples to let the life of the vine,
Ward, P., Liquid Church (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2002) p. 56 Mission-Shaped Church p. 5 103 Ward, P., Liquid Church p. 87 104 See Bosch, D, Transforming Mission (New York: Orbis, 1991) p. 389-393 for explanation of Missio Dei concept. 105 Warren, Robert, Building Missionary Congregations (London: Church House Publishing, 1995) p. 4 102
Jesus, to flow into and throughout them, the branches, to produce fruit. This in turn enables the network church to grow.
Koinonia and the Network Church
Another helpful theological reflection on Network Church is based in the book of Acts. Jurgen Moltmann says, ‘It is when we as people follow God’s mission to other people and put ourselves in line with that mission that we show respect for the dignity of others’106 In Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 we see the believers showing much respect for the dignity of one another. Acts 2:42 says, ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship.’ The word fellowship here is a translation of the Greek word koinonia.107 Justo Gonzalez suggests that this word means more than just fellowship among friends. ‘There is no doubt that koinonia is fellowship, but it is also solidarity and the sharing of feelings, goods, and actions.’108 Therefore, another translation of koinonia could be, ‘participation’.
The network way of being church is very much about participation with others. It is about being fruitful in and through our lives. Pete Ward says, ‘Individual nodes represent the connection of believers or those with no belief to the communication flow of the network. Membership is no longer measured by attendance at worship. Instead, it is assessed in terms of participation in the network. Much like a website can evaluate its significance in terms of numbers of hits, liquid church will be based in participation in the activities of the network.’109
Moltmann, J., The Source of Life (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1997) p.19 Gonzalez, J.L., Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit (New York: Orbis Books, 2001) p.50 108 Gonzalez, J.L., Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit p.51 109 Ward’s preferred term for Network Church is, ‘Liquid Church’. He says, ‘I suggest that we need to shift from seeing church as a gathering of people meeting in one place at one time – that is, a congregation – to a notion of church as a series of relationships and communications. This image implies something like a network or a web rather than an assembly of people. An example of this was given to me by a research student who saw nothing strange in the idea of a liquid church made up of informal relationships instead of formal meetings. He explained that before we met for our academic seminar, he was in a coffee shop with one of his Christian friends, As they talked, he said, he felt that Christ was communicated between them. For him this was church. This is the familiar notion to the word fellowship, but when one adds the definite article to the word fellowship, it takes on a different character. ‘The fellowship’ indicates a more structured, static, and formal notion of church. My phrase for describing this shift toward structures, institutions, and meetings is solid church. 107
Gustavo Gutierrez says the philosophy behind the participation in Acts110, ‘…was not a question of erecting poverty as an ideal, but rather of seeing to it that there were no poor.’111 It has to be said that Gutierrez would probably have much to say about the network churches and their common life mentioned in this piece of work but, the philosophy and practise of these churches is very much to do with participation, being connected or linked together. Gutierrez also takes his comments further by suggesting that koinonia is about a union of believers with the Father.112 He quotes 1 John 1:6, ‘If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.’113 Solle says, ‘Wherever God acts in a liberating way in and through human beings, there participation in the liberating action of God, involvement, allowing oneself to be drawn into the process of liberation; there ‘church’ appears in the full sense of the word…’114 These insights, drawn in part from the perspective of liberation theology, enable us to see how the early church’s common life, koinonia, clearly sprung from God’s mission to his world. What’s more, it gives us another helpful way of describing the theological foundation of network church from within the scriptures.
Inculturation / Contextualization and Network Church
Our reflections from John and Acts about the vine (connection and link) and koinonia (fellowship and participation) lead me to consider the important ecclesiological theme of inculturation or contextualization,115 written about in Mission-Shaped Church.116 Both of the John and Acts reflections speak of following God in his mission to the world and contextualization is to a certain So the move in imagining a liquid church is to take the informal fellowship, in which we experience Christ as we share with other Christians, and say this is church.’ Ward, P., Liquid Church p. 2 & 88 110 Acts 2:44-45, 4:34-35 111 th Gutierrez, G., A Theology of Liberation (London: SCM Press Ltd, 5 ed. 1981) p.301 112 Gutierrez, G., A Theology of Liberation p.265 113 There is again here a clear link with our vine reflection from John 15. 114 Solle, D., Thinking about God: An Introduction to Theology London: SCM Press, 1990) p. 137-138 115 Inculturation is a Roman Catholic term; contextualization is the preferred evangelical term. I will use the latter from now on. 116 Mission-Shaped Church p. 90 - 93
extent, what comes about from a genuine following of God’s mission. MissionShaped Church says, ‘Any theology concerning the nature and shape of the Church in a new missionary context must address the appropriate place of culture in shaping the Church.’117 Put another way, ‘It is impossible to avoid ecclesiology in the communication of the gospel, for the gospel does not come as a pure message but issues from, and gives rise to, specific communities; and such communities will adopt certain characteristics which they believe express the gospel in churchly form.’118
Addressing the place of culture in church planting is what contextualization is concerned with. David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen use the following definition, which will help our understanding: ‘Contexuality … is that critical assessment of what makes the context really significant in the light of the Missio Dei. It is the missiological discernment of the signs of the times, seeing where God is at work and calling us to participate in it… Authentic contextuality leads to contextualization… This dialectic between contextuality and contextualization indicates a new way of theologising. It involves not only words, but actions.’119 Key themes at the heart of contextualization are connection or link and fellowship or participation. Network church has at its core an emphasis on contextualization because it does not look to draw disciples out of the network context that they live in, but seeks to allow them to continue to live and participate in that context and bear fruit, that is extend the church network within that context.
In an interview with Canon Martin Percy with regard to his reflections on Mission-Shaped Church, we considered the contextualization theme. We discussed whether Mission-Shaped Church was too mechanistic in its approach to mission and ecclesiology. Percy suggested that if he was writing a theology for Mission-Shaped Church he would have started in a different place.120 He talked about the importance of the stories that make up an individual culture. Percy was referring very clearly to contextualization and the 117
Mission-Shaped Church p. 90 Yates, T., Christian Mission in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: CUP, 1994) p. 127 119 Hesselgrave, D. and E. Rommen, Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models (Leicester: Apollos, 1989) p. 150 120 Interview with Martin Percy 118
importance context has when we seek to be involved in mission and church planting. Percy used the illustration of a charismatic church which could not put aside its ‘romantic theology’ to get to grips with the context within which it was ministering. Recently I heard Bishop Graham Cray speaking on MissionShaped Church and he agreed with Percy’s thoughts about contextualization, though Cray felt that the report was theologically adequate. Cray clearly emphasised the important principle of ‘planting and not cloning’, that is, contextualizing the gospel in a specific culture, and he encouraged the reader not to just take a Mission-Shaped Church model off the shelf as it were, but to really grapple with the context where a plant may spring up.121 Cray also added to this emphasis by speaking to those from the charismatic tradition who would seek to, ‘clone and not plant’ church. In a book in honour of John Wimber, Cray wrote, ‘We honour John best by following his principles of a culturally accessible church life rooted in a Biblical world view, rather than by aping his culturally specific form.’122
The importance of the theological theme of contextualization in the planting of Network Churches is immense. As mentioned before, embodying the gospel in the Network Society is about a re-emergence of how to be church how people are, and a divergence from just how to be church where people are.123 The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, when asked about this area, said, ‘I think the church has always done its evangelistic work by trying to connect to the actual relationships people are in. Vincent Donovan’s book about evangelism in East Africa brings that out doesn’t it? You work with the natural unit. If the natural unit isn’t just an area then you have to ask what is.’124
The above reflections from John 15 on the vine, Acts 2 and 4 on koinonia, and contextualization give a firm theological basis for the concept and practise of network church. In the foreword to Mission Shaped-Church Archbishop 121
This also connects with Ward’s understanding mentioned above in the reflection on the vine. ‘A network-based church cannot be planned. It must grow. People who are looking for God will connect to the network because it offers what they want.’ 122 Taken from PowerPoint presentation by Bishop Graham Cray presented at New Wine Leaders Conference, May 2004 123 Taken from PowerPoint presentation by Bishop Graham Cray presented at New Wine Leaders Conference, May 2004 124 Interview with Archbishop Rowan Williams
Rowan gives a simple description of what church is. This description encapsulates something of what the Network way of being Church is seeking to achieve, ‘… church is what happens when people encounter the Risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in their encounter with each other…’125
Mission-Shaped Church p. vii
Chapter Four (Response)
Network Church: A Reconfigured System
The title of this study refers to, ‘Reconfiguring the System’. To configure something means to shape or put together that thing in a particular form. In computing, to reconfigure means to rearrange or reorder a computer system or element of it so as to fit it for a designated task.126 This piece of work has been concerned with the reconfiguring of the way in which we are church. It has specifically referred to the Network reconfiguration of Church seen within the Church of England over the past ten years or so. This final chapter will respond to issues raised by our consideration of Network Church. It will provide ministerial outcomes that flow from the research. In their book, The Shaping of Things to Come,127 Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch use the film, Chocolat as a reflection and illustration of what a reconfigured church could look like in comparison to a more traditional form of church. Chocolat is set in a French village that is dominated by an austere, overbearing form of church. The local mayor, the Comte de Reynaud, controls the whole of the village by controlling what happens in church life. Frost and Hirsch say, ‘Everything is grey, mirroring the dryness associated with the strict form of religion that the Comte uses to silence everyone. As a result of this blanket of austerity, the relationships of the townspeople are fractured and strained.’128 One day, Vianne Rocher and her daughter are blown into the town by a, ‘…sly wind from the north.’ Vianne is determined to bring some colour to the townspeople. She does so by opening a Chocolaterie in the town, at the beginning of Lent when the townspeople are led by the mayor to deny themselves worldly pleasures as an act of devotion to Christ. ‘Vianne’s
Oxford Dictionary p.385 Frost, M. and A. Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003) 128 Frost, M. and A. Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come p. 60. This church is a prime example of Putnam’s bonding social capital. 127
chocolate shop is an antithesis of everything the town stands for.’129 Frost and Hirsch see the Comte and the church he represents, a church which stands in the middle of the town square, as symbolising the Christendom-attractional model of church. ‘It has positioned itself in the centre of things and demands allegiance and attendance.’130 This way of being has been summed up by others as the pastoral or ‘come’ model of church.131 But, as Alan Roxburgh comments, ’Culture is now an organised diversity with little sense of defining centre’:132 Church has been and continues to be marginalized by society.
Frost and Hirsch think that, ‘Vianne and the chocolaterie, on the other hand, represent the missional-incarnational church… Her shop is a haven, but she doesn’t simply wait for people to enter. She engages the lives and troubles of her community and offers practical help as well as space and honesty and truth telling to happen. She celebrates life, good food, loud laughter, love, romance, storytelling, fantasy and imagination.’133 Frost and Hirsch say that instead of worrying about selling her chocolates, Vianne sets about building friendships with the community. She creates what resembles a web or network of friendships.134 This web or network of friendships that has been built up around the Chocolaterie is what makes the community much like a Network Church which focuses its attentions on sport, business, parenting, or another interest, food. Lings says, ‘Network churches are at the sharp end of learning how we win people through relationships. They have no other way to work.’135
The above illustration from Chocolat shows what the Network Churches we have discussed in this study could provide the wider Church of England: a reconfiguration of the way that we have been church based on relationship. The vine reflection in chapter three speaks of this. It is not suggested that the whole of the Church of England should become Network, but it is good to take note of this way of being as it has at its heart a genuine sense of what church 129
Frost, M. and A. Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come p. 61 Frost, M. and A. Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come p. 61 131 Warren, R., Building Missionary Congregations (London: CHP, 1995) 132 Roxburgh, A., The Missionary Congregation, Leadership and Liminality p. 13 133 This is a prime example of Putnam’s bridging social capital. 134 Frost, M. and A. Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come p. 61-62 135 Lings, New Canterbury Tales p. 24 130
koinonia – participation is. Lings says that Network Church is also bucking the national trend of decline, and surely this is a good thing.136 The continued growth of Network Church within the Church of England will depend on the church’s own ability to reflect, research, resource and reconfigure itself again, then again…
Reflect Chapter three of this study provides us with a good, albeit not complete theological resource on the concept and practise of Network Church. This resource, along with the historical foundations written about in chapter one, allow us to see that Network Church is not just the latest fashion accessory in church life, that is, the latest trendy way of doing church which has no firm theological foundation. The emphasis on relationship and community participation (koinonia) in Network Church resonates with what the church of God is called to be and do. This is important to recognise.
In the earlier reflection on the vine we noted that for a branch to produce fruit they need to remain in connection with the Vine. Practically speaking, network church and the wider Church of England need not only to remain in connection with the Vine, but they need to take note of the small degrees of separation there is between themselves also. Mission-Shaped Church highlights the importance of the connection that comes about through bishops. ‘The role of bishop as leader in mission is crucial to these developments.’137 It is therefore, vitally important that the bishops, network church and the wider church are able to trust, respect and be in communion with each other, that is, stay in connection with each other. Archbishop Rowan referred to bishops needing to be sounding boards for those involved in fresh expressions of church. He described the connection talked about here as being genuinely Anglican.138
Lings, New Canterbury Tales p. 24 The Network Churches I have researched are nearly all growing numerically which is positive. It remains to be seen whether Network Church can totally buck the trend of national church decline. 137 Mission-Shaped Church p. 135 138 Interview with Archbishop Rowan Williams
The discipline of rigorous theological reflection is one of the ways a Network Church could remain in connection with the Vine, the wider church and other networks within society and therefore, be fruitful in the years to come.
Research In chapter two we see how over the last 100 years or so society has reconfigured itself. The church has not. An area in which continuous academic research is needed to continue the growth and development of Network Church is social sciences. Chapter two of this work is only useful to the furtherance of the reconfiguration of the church, if the research is realistic and up-to-date. The need for a continual reassessment of the world around us through thorough research is essential. John Stott uses the illustration of a pair of scissors to show how evangelism and social action can work together in the mission of God. A pair of scissors illustrates well the way that the social sciences and theology need to work together in Godâ€™s mission too. For the branches (disciples) of the Vine (Jesus) to produce fruit, they respond to the environment around them. They are planted in the world, while remaining firmly connected to the Vine too. This is hard; as it will involve sacrifice of some of the ways we are familiar with. It is fundamental to realise that if we want to participate in Godâ€™s mission to his world, there is no option though. Koinonia and inculturation or contextualization is needed.
Resources In chapter one, we mentioned how the issue of resources for fresh expressions of church was discussed at General Synod. A vision for the future of the Church of England was put before the synod, the Mission ShapedChurch report.139 The synod warmly accepted the report and the Pastoral Measure review, which provided legal resources for the loosening up of the law surrounding these new developments. A proposal about financial resources was also discussed, but it was sent back to the Church Commissioners to be reworked. Since synod I have not heard anymore about 139
Lings and Hopkins agree with this in Lings, G. and Hopkins, B., Encounters on the Edge No. 22: Mission-Shaped Church: The Inside and Outside View (Sheffield: Church Army, 2004) p. 24
this proposed pot of money. If Network Church and the other fresh expressions that Mission Shaped-Church talks about are to be fruitful these financial resources need to be released quickly.
Alongside the discussions at Synod Archbishop Rowan was firmly putting his all behind the vision of Mission Shaped-Church, by talking to the Lambeth Partners140 about an initiative to encourage new mission developments in church life. This new initiative, Fresh Expressions,141 has Steven Croft at its helm. It is to be a research and resource body for the wider church in its reflection on the way forward. This I hope is one of the resources that will help to bring about a reconfigured church.
The training of leaders for Network Churches is essential. ‘We are going to have to look for people who have got some … entrepreneurial skills and are capable of taking some initiatives and some risks. And that means that training has to look at itself.’142 Lings and Hopkins talk of the need for entrepreneurial leaders.143 Over the last few years the mission organisation CMS has also started to focus on the need for entrepreneurial leaders. The need for good leadership and training was highlighted in Mission-Shaped Church;144 point eleven of the recommendations for taking its vision forward referred to the selection of candidates for ministry. At a seminar, which Graham Cray was taking about Mission-Shaped Church, he mentioned discussions that were going on with Ministry Division about the creation of a new Diocesan Director of Ordinands network for pioneer leaders and church planters.145 This is greatly encouraging for those who feel called to ministry, but not necessarily the inherited form of ministry. This will help the furtherance of the vision to see a reconfigured church.
The Lambeth Partners are the group that provided financial support for the previous Archbishop of Canterbury’s evangelism initiative, Springboard. 141 www.fresh-expressions.org.uk 142 Interview with Archbishop Rowan Williams 143 Lings and Hopkins, Mission-Shaped Church: The Inside and Outside View p. 25-26 144 Mission-Shaped Church p. 147 145 Taken from a seminar by Bishop Graham Cray at New Wine Leaders Conference, May 2004.
Reconfigure ‘At present, we stand at a watershed in the life of the Church of England… we have to ask whether we are capable of moving towards a more ‘mixed economy’ - recognising church where it appears and having the willingness and skill to work with it.’146 Archbishop Rowan speaks here of a reconfiguring of the system that could help the Church of England as a whole move forward. I believe Network Church has much to teach us about our church’s future. Whether we are a Church that focuses on small groups, Seeker services, young adults, a parish, business links, or another interest, it doesn’t matter. The important point is that we allow the lessons Network Church teach us to become true for the whole church. That is, we allow the renewal of relationship being at the centre of our church. Network Church could be used by God to reconfigure the system, if we allow that to happen..?
Taken from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address to General Synod, July 2003.
A Transcript of an Interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams with Regard to – Reconfiguring the System: A Sociological and Theological Enquiry into the Emergence of Network Church within the Church of England. This interview took place on 13th February 2004 in the York Room, Church House, Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3NZ.
Nick: As you’ve just read I’ve given you the title of the area of study, I just have a few questions the first is, in the foreword to Mission-Shaped Church you spoke of being poised for serious growth and renewal and we’re at a watershed you said, you felt and in your speech on Tuesday you spoke of the Church of England being at a Kairos moment in its history, why do you think that we’re in such an important moment and why should we move forward in the ways that the Mission-Shaped Church report suggests Archbishop Rowan: I think this is really the first opportunity we had as a whole church of taking cognisance of what’s been going on in bits and pieces around the country and when you put all that together and you see the range of new initiatives going on I think it becomes very clear indeed that there is far more than we’ve ever noticed. When I was a bishop in Wales we had Bob and Mary Hopkins from the Church Planting Mission to visit the diocese and they told us that we had more than a dozen church plants and we didn’t really know or we hadn’t identified them as such. Now I think you can multiply that for the whole country in a way and that’s why I feel (a) there’s an awful lot going on (b) this is a very good moment for recognising what’s going on and (c) a very good moment then for asking ourselves so what do we do about it and I would really encourage it because this seems to be where the edge of the growth area is in many areas. Nick: That’s great, thank you. The Mission-Shaped Church report talks much about networks in society and network style of church, and network way of being, why do you think network church is such a important way of being the church for 21st century England? Archbishop Rowan: I think the church has always done its evangelistic work by trying to connect to the actual relationships people are in. Vincent Donovan’s book about the evangelism in East Africa brings that out doesn’t it? You work with the natural unit. If the natural unit isn’t just an area then you have to ask what is. And that’s I think where the network idea comes in. The shadow side of it that has to be tackled as well is church is also about meeting the people you don’t naturally belong with and spending time with the people 36
you don’t particularly like or find congenial and just as in the old days with the conversion of a tribe, the point sooner or later came when you had to make Christian relations with the next door tribe so will network I think. You must keep a very, very clear eye out for signs of this becoming a kind of clique of people of the same age, same culture. Nick: That was mentioned in think? Archbishop Rowan: It was, and right enough I think. Nick: Do you think that network churches can be classed as Anglican when they are so different to what we know or our understanding in our culture as it has been the last X number of years as Anglican and why perhaps you could refer to your Anglican Identities? Archbishop Rowan: I think what counts as Anglican has always a bit more diverse than we suspect. We think now we know what it is because for a 100 odd years there’s been a fairly standard pattern but look a bit further back and it was different again. A couple of things to bear in mind. One is that very central to the enterprise has been this business of relating to a natural community and sometimes that’s still a crude rationalism but at best this is the Church that slots in with the ordinary life of people so this is a new way of doing that and in that sense very traditionally Anglican. A new way of doing the very same thing. Secondly Anglican isn’t primarily one style of worship its the fact that we are a sacramental church, a reformed church with a particular kind of ministerial shape and I’ve seen how that can survive and flourish in very different, very new styles of church life. So I don’t lose too much sleep over that. Nick: So in terms of the shape of being in terms of the structure of service and things, do you think there are any issues there? Archbishop Rowan: I think there are a couple of challenges. There’s one about how important the Eucharist is going to be in new churches. Now some people’s experience suggests that actually people move towards wanting this after a while if they’re listening to their bibles after all they’ll pick up sooner or later that its quite important in the New Testament and that Jesus does say do this so perhaps we’d better do it. So again something to watch out for but it’s not just a kind of endless series of worship services without any particular focus. And then there’s the whole question which interests me a lot of the shape of ministries in new churches and the very considerable new, I wouldn’t say burdens, but opportunities, challenges, to bishop in keeping all these plugged into one community. Now that can be done, it means that bishops have to think quite a bit about what the appropriate kind of support reference panel, whatever is, for a new form of ministry and the bishops need to be willing to be involved in that group for mission, there as a sounding board sometimes. I found one of the most exciting things when I was a diocesan bishop in Wales was being a sounding board for 3 or 4 of these new initiatives and learning hugely from the experience. I think that’s Anglican. Nick: It’s the connectiveness.
Archbishop Rowan: Yes, it’s the connectiveness. Nick: I spent four weeks on placement last summer at the Net Church. Dave Male, the leader there, said he felt more Anglican than he ever had done because he felt there was such connectiveness and that, in terms of the support that he’s had, he’s found and received through the diocesan structures. Archbishop Rowan: Yes, this is where the more than local structure comes in isn’t it? And one of the groups I was involved in in Wales, the Wells Centre, Healing Centre, which eventually sponsored an order of people committed to healing, the leader of that, who had been in and out of a number of Pentecostal groups, really set it up as a fairly independent charismatic enterprise said to me a few years after he’d come back into the Anglican fold that he’d found the Anglican environment more supportive than any of the others he’d been in. Although he knew he was pushing against the culture in some ways the structures of support were there. Nick: A question that I was asked when I was going through selection was what do you hope the Church of England would look like in 10 years time if/how the church gets hold of the initiative before us? Archbishop Rowan: I’d like to see alongside the parochial base in every city, and in rural areas too, a number of different kinds of congregation springing up with perhaps every diocese having a group that took some oversight of these new enterprises made sure they were in touch with each other, kept them in the main stream. You need some kind of umbrella to keep an eye on that. I’d like also to see a situation where perhaps not everybody ordained would automatically be ordained to a parish, we’d be able to be a bit more flexible then that. Some people, frankly, are never going to be able to fit into the parish system as it is and it really shrinks them to go through that and, of course, when you’re ordained you’re ordained and in principle you ought to be able to go anywhere. But let’s be realistic, people have always been ordained to jobs as university teachers or school teachers, there isn’t absolutely fixed in stone the notion that unless your a curate there’s a whole range of questions then about professional ministry development which come in and something that was raised yesterday in Synod, is the curacy anyway the ideal form of preliminary training. There’s a lot to be said for it, you put somebody on the bench to watch the person next to them and that’s tremendous and its relational, it’s local. On the other hand people raise the question should people be ordained to a wider area than just one parish? They should be able to draw on the expertise of several people, should they be ordained to something outside the parish system. I think we have to look at that and I expect to see some change in that area, too. Nick: Talking about the training aspects and, again, you strongly mentioned that the other day in Synod, would you mind talking a little bit about that? Archbishop Rowan: I think the culture is still very strongly supportive of a rather solitary style of ordained ministry and training doesn’t always produce cooperative people, collaborative is the buzz word isn’t it? And try as people might it doesn’t always work out. We are going to have to look for people who 38
have got some, I don’t much like the word but let’s use it, entrepreneurial skills and are capable of taking some initiatives and some risks and that means that training has to look at itself in that light. As a matter of fact I believe very strongly in the old fashioned virtues of residential training, properly understood because you’re given the kind of time and space there the idea of which lets you grow as a human being, rather than just acquiring a set of little brownie badges by doing your modules and I find the most difficult problem ahead, as I see it, is how to combine that with the right sort of flexibility, how not to lose the personally deepening and stretching things about residential training without going back to a sort of sausage machine, if that’s what it was but I don’t know, I think the Hind report on training is going to open the door to a lot of thinking about that, it won’t be dull I suspect. Nick: If there’s one thing that excites you at the moment in terms of where we are in the Church of England what would that be? Archbishop Rowan: I think it’s simply the fact that all the bishops and the Synod seem ready to rise to this challenge. We all know the problems, we all know that in some areas and at some levels the numerical decline is a reality. Let’s not be silly about that. But here we’ve got a really carefully worked through vision. We’ve got some loosening up of the regulations and I don’t know what’s going to happen about the spending, we had a difficult discussion this week which I think took us off in a direction that might have actually undermined what we’ve tried to do. We’ve got a lot of thinking to do about that, no I am excited about the fact that Synod seems to be fired by this and …. Yes… Nick: In terms of the wider picture? Is that the thing? Archbishop Rowan: If you’ve got bishops motivated and you’ve got representatives of the church and decision-making bodies motivated you’ve got quite a lot going for you. I take it for granted that there are exciting things on the ground all over the place but I’m trying to focus on one thing and I’ve been surprised and delighted by how much this vision seems to have gathered people. Nick: I really appreciate your time, Archbishop. Thank you. Archbishop Rowan: Your very welcome, a pleasure, nice to meet you.
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Films: Hallstrom, Lasse, Chocolat (Miramax Films, 2000)
Websites: www.bettertogether.org www.bowlingalone.com www.cofe.anglican.org www.fresh-expressions.org.uk www.home-online.org www.netchurch.org.uk www.oaktree.org.uk www.run.org.uk
Interviews: Rev George Lings – December 2003 The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams – February 2004 Rev Dave Male – February 2004 Rev Geoff Lanham – March 2004 42
Rev Canon Martyn Percy – March 2004 A transcript of the interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury is included in the appendix. The other interviews are available for reference from the author by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Informal interviews were held with Bishop Graham Cray, Rev Chris Neal, Rev Gordon Crowther, Michele McBride and Rev Matt Rees. These were not transcribed.
Field Visits made: The Net Church, Huddersfield - September 2003. General Synod of the Church of England, London - February 2004. B1 Church, Birmingham - March 2004. A seminar by Rev Chris Neal re. Mission-Shaped Church - March 2004. A seminar by Bishop Graham Cray re. Mission-Shaped Church - May 2004. A seminar by Rev Dr Steven Croft re. A Mission-Shaped Church and the futures of Evangelism - June 2004. A seminar by Matt Rees re. hOME, Oxford - July 2004.
Documents used: A copy of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address to General Synod, July 2003. A paper written by Canon John Holmes after a Mission Visit to The Net Church, Huddersfield dated 01/09/03. A paper written by Rev Paul Dowling for a sabbatical project – ‘Fondant Church: Thawing the Church for Mission in the 21st Century’ dated August 2003. PowerPoint slides created by Bishop Graham Cray from a Network Church Conference at the Sheffield Centre.
Published on Nov 10, 2009