That maybe the longest title I have ever given a blog post but the national Church of England Strategy has set a target of developing 10000 New Christian Communities but the language coming out is that what will be measured are New Worshipping Communities and what we measure matters as it speaks to certain ideas and approaches.Two conversations recently have got me thinking a bit more about measurements and how the paradigms that resource projects shape these outcomes. I was working on an IME2 session with Paul Bradbury for Pioneer Curates and we were discussing Resilient Pioneering and Sustainability. This led to the idea that the Institutional paradigm see things one way and therefore means one thing by sustainability because they value things like solidity, cohesion, and shape, whilst the Emergent paradigm sees sustainability differently because they value emergence, flexibility, etc. So an emergent project might change its shape to achieve sustainability and continue but this may not valued to the same degree in the institutional paradigm precisely because it has changed shape.However this also then sparked deeper questions for me about what then gives shape to the paradigm we are in, in the first place. In particular what theology gave shape to the paradigm we are in. So when it comes to the question of measurement Im wondering if the institutional / inherited paradigm values and wants to measure New Worshipping Communities not just because it speaks of solidity cohesion and shape but because NWC reflect their particular doctrine of salvation. In his paper A view from the Street Stefan Paas puts it they have a “soteriological paradigm that echoes societal differentiation and subcultural isolation. ‘Conversion,’ ideally perceived as dramatic and sudden, is the bridge from one culture to the other, or from the ‘world’ to the ‘religious’ realm. It is a paradigm that allows for clear distinctions (e.g., between the saved and the lost) and challenges (e.g., regular churchgoing as a mark of the truly converted).”What is interesting is how at odds this approach is with a more Missio-dei orientated theology and emerging missional community practices where the values of those joining shape what is emerging because we recognise the work of god in those people and some of those values. Consequently what emerges maybe new christian communities that don’t fit the criteria set for new worshipping communities because these parameters are set through the wrong lens.
However as Pass reminds us its important to remember that the soteriological paradigm that values differentiation is only one view of soteriology and one that is informed by the reformation and rise of the economic transactional culture of modernity. So as pioneers who faithfully improvise and draw on culture and christian tradition we may need to find other soteriological traditions that help us in the emergent paradigm. Indeed many of the new christian communities I see emerging are more fluid and much more aligned to the soteriological approach of the church from 200-400AD which saw salvation and about how do we live, thrive, and find healing in a time of uncertainly are valid, real and orthodox. Some many call themselves new spiritual communities rather new christian communities as using word christian carries colonial and negative connotations. Or they may adopt practices that would not be seen as worship in an institutional paradigm but are authentic and contextually appropriate to the emerging paradigm. So they may never count in the 10000 not because what we measure matters, but because we measure what matters to the paradigm we are in.