By Tim Conder
Geoff Holscaw, Andrea Summers, Mike King, Rick Bennett, Laci Scott, and I have been working to lead Emergent's effort to develop regional learning communities and local gatherings that we call "cohorts."
We are enthusiastic and optimistic about the "localization" and "regionalization" of Emergent. Local conversations provide unique support, intimate knowledge of a ministry context, and relational learning opportunities that can be gifts for ministry leaders and spiritual travelers in a specific location. Regional communities offer opportunties for collaboration that might be too resource intensive for local communities. Each day we are hearing of new cohorts developing. We apologize as well that many have written looking for a local community only to find that one does not exist in their area. A common question we receive from those living in areas without a group concerns how to start a cohort.
There is no blueprint or template for doing so. I'll share a bit of our experiences in starting a new community ("Ekklesia") in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. We started with just a handful of friends (about 5) who were interested in discussing issues related to the emerging church. In our case, the original core were pastors and church planters who connected through national events like the Emergent Convention and Soularize. As we have started to grow, we have been intentional about searching our community for ministries that have emergent interests and inviting their leaders and participants to attend Ekklesia. As our group has started to grow just a bit, we have resisted the urge to be overly programmatic — "to do something together to legitimize our existence." Our initial focus has been relational and dialogical explorations. Since we didn't know each other at all, we often focus on the narrative of a specifc community in our monthly gatherings. We also have committed to learn and read together since this small group allows for comfortable dialogue and discussion. We began with Brian McLaren's "Generous Orthodoxy" as a common text. Even in our neophyte stage, many easy collaborations have occurred. Several of us have spoken at each other's ministry gatherings. Two of the communities in our original core are sharing space. Relationships are forming quickly that are becoming the basis of a thriving community.
This last year in San Diego at the Emergent/YS Convention, I had the privilege of connecting three folks in our cohort with Tim Keel, Mike King, and Ivy Beckwith who have all been very involved with Emergent on a national level. It was a delight to watch Tim Keel, a generous and gifted church planter, share his experiences with my friends from Raleigh. As a new church planter myself and in a cohort with several other beginning church planters, we have little experience to pool on the subject in our local gatherings. These kind of local/national relationships are part of Emergent's dream in developing local conversations. We hope that Emergent will be deeply effected by and responsive to the transitions of the church, innovations, and creative movement's of God's Spirit on the local level.
We're just starting out in Raleigh-Durham with our group. I'm sure there will be challenges and frustrations ahead. And certainly I understand that just finding a few interested folks in some communities may be difficult. But, this experience of community, learning, and collaboration has been a exciting and fruitful journey in our context.