One of the ways Emerging Spirit talked of the shift in the spiritual and generational foundations of our time was through a focus on the words believe, behave and belong.
In times past, if one was curious about being a Christian the entry point was often a conversation about beliefs. Many very bright and gifted people spent their lives wrestling with and writing through the meaning and implications of beliefs deemed central to Christian discipleship. Once some framework of belief was pieced together, the conversation then usually shifted to the implications of these beliefs for personal and societal behaviour. Once there was some understanding of beliefs and compliance with various standards of Christian behaviour then one belonged (to the church, to the Christian family).
Now that order has flipped. The entry point for people, especially (but not limited to) those under the age of 45 is their experience of belonging. The phrases vary – we just never seemed to click, we never felt at home, I knew I belonged, we got it almost as soon as we walked through the door – but the core message remains the same.
The prime – and often only – criteria through which a Christian community is judged initially is through their practice of hospitality.
Now the answer to the question – where a good church? – is not determined initially by a congregation’s adherence or flexibility with respect to a certain set of beliefs but by how welcome people (and particularly their children) feel. The acuteness of people’ antennae used to be around how the name of Jesus was used, which creeds were said or sermons preached; now, with just as much rigor, the signals being processed go beyond superficial friendliness right to the heart of congregational culture. Are these people really serious about accepting and welcoming me and my family? What signals are they sending?
The shift in initial focus has moved from heresy to hospitality.