I have been thinking for some time about what the key influences on the newfrontiers group of churches are. What are the trends that will shape the future of our churches? I had hoped to post these thoughts a few months ago while Dave and Phil were posting about strengths and weaknesses of newfrontiers (see here, here, here and here), but things were a bit to busy.
So without further ado, here are what I consider to be the key four influences affecting newfrontiers, and the wider new church movement. Most churches I have come across are heading in one of these four directions.
1. Church Growth – (Bill Hybels, Hillsong, Rick Warren)
By “church growth”, I mean deliberately shaping your church around the intentionality to grow. Great music such as at Hillsong, and teaching that is seeker-sensitive and full of practical wisdom such as modelled by Bill Hybels have proven highly effective in building large congregations. These churches are not so well known for their doctrinal distinctives as for the excellence with which they do their Sunday morning service. Rick Warren (author of the Purpose Driven Church) would be another prime example of someone who has built a very large church with a non-denominational feel.
The strengths of this approach are the desire to take seriously the need to fulfil the great commission. Weaknesses include the danger of only appealing to the middle class (or worse still, to Christians from other churches), and the watering down of doctrine to make for a safe lowest common denominator (though to be fair, these churches tend to retain an evangelical commitment to the Bible at least in principle).
2. Reformissional – (Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll)
Though Terry Virgo is reformed in doctrine, newfrontiers perhaps hasn’t always had very strong ties with the rest of the reformed world due to their suspicion of all things charismatic. However, the combination of reformed doctrine with a missional emphasis such as that of Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller, have deeply influenced many leaders within newfrontiers.
In additional to the reformed plus missional folk, there are also those such as C J Mahaney and Wayne Grudem who show a way to be reformed and charismatic. This has resulted in a stronger belief than ever that we can build churches that are biblically sound and doctrinally robust, while at the same time retaining our charismatic distinctives an taking on a more missional emphasis.
3. Neo-Pentecostal – (Rob Rufus, Todd Bentley)
I wasn’t quite sure what to call this, but what I mean by “Neo-pentecostal” is a very strong emphasis on the miraculous, including a confident expectation of healings. A good example would be Rob Rufus, who has twice spoken at the newfrontiers Brighton conference. There was also great excitement about the “Lakeland Revival” amongst many in newfrontiers circles, while others remained guarded about it.
This direction tends to be quite polarising, and in some ways is in conflict with the reformissional direction, although perhaps people like Sam Storms can show how those two emphases could be combined. It is not a tension easily held together though, as those who follow the direction set by the New Mystics will find themselves increasingly at odds with those of a more reformed persuasion.
4. Emerging Church (Rob Bell)
The final direction may seem surprising. In fact, few if any newfrontiers churches are following this path, although many of the other “restorationist” new church movements have done so. The emerging church is in many ways a critique of evangelicalism, including the charismatic movement. It emerges as “post-evangelical”, and “post-charismatic”.
While emerging leaders such as Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke do not have many sympathisers within newfrontiers, due to some controversial theology, figures such as Rob Bell are less polarizing (possibly Shane Claiborne too). Emerging churches are passionate about the environment, social justice and the poor, and downplay the importance of many things that conservative evangelicals would consider central. This can offer a refreshing change to those disillusioned with whatever branch of evangelicalism they find themselves in.
It would be nice to think that we adopt some of the positive aspects of the emerging movement without needing to compromise theologically. I have written about how I think that can be done here. Phil Whittall is the best example I can think of as a newfrontiers pastor who has taken on board some of the emerging church concerns of the environment, living simply and social justice.
I would be interested to hear your feedback if you are part of newfrontiers (or if you are just interested). Do you agree with my analysis? Have I missed a direction? And which of these directions would you consider most fruitful? Personally I am most positive about the reformissional direction, and more cautious regarding the other three.