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 lifechurch.tv (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 churchplanters.com, 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?

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.