Networks, Initiatives, Conferences, and Movements

It seems that everyone either has a network or is starting a network. A couple years ago, we started the Upstream Collective, a group of churches that think and act like missionaries. We looked around and didn’t see anything like it. We thought we could help. We saw a need, and we set out to meet that need. We thought we were unique. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones.

Timmy Brister recently launched the church-centric PLNTD Church Planting Network. The GCM Collective seems to be a splinter group of more missional-leaning Acts 29 leaders. Missional Network is the North American Mission Board’s appropriately-named network of missional churches. Missional Church Network, on the other hand, is mostly just a really good website, and not to be confused with the other Missional Church Network, which isn’t very missional at all, and is in fact, a very bad website.  Ecclesia is a “relational network of churches, leaders and movements that seek to equip, partner and multiply missional churches and movements.”

And there’s that word, movement. According to its website, EXPONENTIAL isn’t just a conference, it’s a movement. Allelon is a movement of missional leaders. Alan Roxburgh has his own Missional Network, which isn’t a movement, but is a catalyst. Catalyst started as a conference and now wants to be a movement. Erwin McManus’ Mosaic Alliance is not the same as his joint venture with Dan Kimball called the ORIGINS Project. ORIGINS is an event, network, and  community (all rolled into one) that will feature Alan Hirsch, who this year is launching his Forge USA Network and Future Travelers, a vision trip initiative not unlike our own Jet Set Vision Trips.

These networks are characterized by their presence and the personalities behind them. Their websites (for the most part) feature sharp graphic design, professional-quality logos, and quality writing (nevermind that we’re all drowning in jargon). The majority feature photos and bios of the writers, bloggers, speakers, thinkers, and Christian micro-celebrities that founded or endorse them. You really can’t separate GlocalNet from Bob Roberts, or have (also a network) without Craig Groeschel.

Networks are on the rise, and have replaced denominations for identity and influence. Local denominational entities may be responsible for funding most of the churches that are being planted today, but few of those new churches actually want to associate with those denominations. The result is lots of Mosaics, Journeys, Sojourns, Ecclesias, and Life(something)s, and fewer First, Second, and Third Baptists Churches being planted. This is why most of the more successful networks are sponsored by denominations, and why most new denominational efforts are being branded as “networks” and “movements.” (It’s important to note that those issues that divide conservative evangelical denominations are the same issues that prompt the birth of new networks: women in leadership, personalities, money, methodology/style, and power/influence.)

The prevalence of networks also reflects a further fragmented church. We used to have dozens of denominations, not we have hundreds of networks. Some of these groups are only loose affiliations- Founders Ministries has become the informal association of reformed Southern Baptists- while others, like, are pay-to-play. Many networks, such as SendNYC and Austin-centered PlantR are local. Others fancy themselves global (yes, that’s Mosaix with an “X”). In all cases, churches describe and identify themselves by their network affiliations. There are even networks of networks.

The question remains: do we need all these networks? Is it good for a church to describe itself as “an emerging, purpose-driven, organic, simple, missional, incarnational, gospel-centered, Southern Baptist member of the Acts 29 Network?” To what extent are we all just competing for the attention (and dollars) 0f the same audience only to do (more or less) the same things?

8 thoughts on “Networks, Initiatives, Conferences, and Movements

  1. Ernest,

    I’m surprised that you left off JADED. It is simultaneously a conference, a loose network, and a way of life–though celebrate-able only one day a year. Perhaps you forgot about this overtly subtle hoopla due to all the glitz and bling associated with it.


  2. Relevant. Witty. Urbane. Pragmatic. Practical. Hip.

    These are the words used to describe this post (along with some of the network/movement/catalysts, mentioned above.)

  3. I think networks, initiatives, conferences, movements–and even denominations and local churches–all have their legitimate place (to the degree they are not heretical, or toxic in other aspects), provided they do not become sectarian, or de facto promoters of sectarianism. We are all a part of the Body of Christ, and, just as each individual member has its place, each network, initiative, conference, movement, denomination, and local church (that really is a part of the Body of Christ, and is really preaching the authentic gospel) has its place.

  4. I don’t know you – but you are right on. May shock you, but I agree with you, I began to realize this several years ago and we began to reformat. Glocalnet doesn’t start churches – NorthWood CHURCH does, and we mentor other churches to start churches. In most networks, Glocalnet included, the majority of churches are started by a small minority in the network, with everyone giving some money and partnering in the network. The only problem is, that allows churches to be planted without a lot of labor and delivery on the part of the mother – meaning that it doesn’t go deep in the DNA of a local church. Thus, several years ago, glocalnet became a training, blogging, etc., site. Our focus is on local churches planting. Call it movement – it doesn’t make it one. Movement is something other people have to say about us, like the Christians in Antioch. Only when church planting is local church driven and done without huge amounts of money will we ever get a movement – the West must get in line with the East on this issue. Now would you please get busy, start lots of churches out of your church and then whine about something worth changing the world over instead of tinkerin with “ecclesiology” a lost world don’t give a rip about your ecclesiology and when it’s all said and done, ecclesiology followed disciplemaking and global engagement not the other way around.

  5. Bob,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve always been a fan of GlocalNet. I love this: “Only when church planting is local church driven and done without huge amounts of money will we ever get a movement – the West must get in line with the East on this issue.” So true.

    I assure you, I stay quite busy with things that “matter.” Sorry to come across as whining. I’ll probably keep “tinkerin’” with ecclesiology, though. I really enjoy working through all this stuff, and I think it’s pretty important. Sounds like you’ve got it figured out– good for you.

    Thanks again!

  6. David,
    I agree. I’m certainly not saying that networks don’t have their place. As I mention in the post, I was part of starting the Upstream Collective, and I think it continues to meet a need for churches. I’m just wondering if there might be a way for us to avoid redundancies or to cooperate rather than compete.

    I love that most networks these days don’t require “exclusivity contracts.” It’s great that a church can associate with various networks across various commonalities. One doesn’t have to choose one network- you can be part of Upstream, Acts 29, GCM, and the SBC, and you won’t get any pushback (from at least 3 of the 4!).

    In fact, when we started the Upstream Collective, we deliberately chose the term “collective” over “network” because we wanted to be more of a loose affiliation. All it takes to be part of Upstream is to take measures to help your church think and act like a missionary!

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