AP, Jan. 21, 2003
SEATTLE — Seattle Urban Foursquare, a church formed last spring, meets Sundays at Piecora’s New York Pizza & Pasta on Capitol Hill.
Most of its 50 members are between the ages of 20 and 35 – a group that ranks among the lowest in church attendance.
It’s one of several “emerging churches” whose youthful members are seeking alternative ways to present and hear the Christian message.
They’re often relatively small and dedicated to fostering friendships among their members. They value experiential, intuitive religious experiences.
Often involved in social-justice issues, they tend to be theologically conservative, stressing the earliest days of Christianity and the root meaning of Bible stories.
They meet in churches, members’ houses, restaurants and cafes. Some combine traditional music with modern R&B. Others sometimes use works of art to address spirituality.
The Seattle-area organizations include Emmaus Road in Belltown, which has doubled in membership every 18 months since forming six years ago; Grace Church Seattle, which attracts about 230 people to services on Capitol Hill; Quest in Interbay, which just opened a 4,500-square-foot coffeehouse-community center; Ballard’s Mars Hill Church, which is moving to a 40,000-square-foot building in March; and Queen Anne’s 110-member All Saints Church.
This weekend, the Seattle-based nonprofit Mustard Seed Associates sponsored a conference to bring together leaders of the new church movement with mainline church leaders.
“I genuinely believe that God is raising up a new generation of 20- and 30-year-olds that are reinventing and bringing renewal to the church,” said Tom Sine of Mustard Seed. “It’s a breath of fresh air for the church.”
In 1998, the Leadership Network, a church-resource group based in Dallas, estimated that 150 to 200 churches targeting young adults had been created since 1994. The numbers are believed to have grown considerably since.
Some experts believe it’s the next phase of development for Western churches.
Seattle, with its largely unchurched but spiritual population, is a natural for the emerging churches, said Edmund Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Mars Hill Church, commonly regarded as the most theologically conservative of the new local churches, holds four services at its main site Sundays, and a fifth in the University District. It has about 1,600 members.
Pastor Mark Driscoll’s messages aren’t new, but they’re delivered with the pacing of a standup comic.
“It’s way more Chris Rock than Puritan,” Driscoll says. “That’s just the way I am. … A lot of it comes down to humor and rhythm and pace.”
Some people “can’t get to the theology” by singing 16th-century German hymns, said the Rev. Karen Ward, pastor of the newly formed Church of the Apostles, which is affiliated with both the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. Others don’t find enough mystery in contemporary-style services.
Ward works to combine the best of both worlds in her Sunday evening services at St. John Lutheran Church. She uses ancient liturgies and Bible readings, along with a live band and sometimes rock music or opera – a mix she calls postmodern, or “ancient-future” approach.
In the early days of Christianity, she notes: “It wasn’t an institution at all then. It was people following in the path of Jesus‘ way of life.
“It’s about getting back to the core of Christianity, but in a way that’s accessible to today’s postmodern world.”