It’s So Much More Than “The Conversation”


Earlier this week, Christianity Today published an article by Chris Smith, from Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, entitled “Before ‘Transforming’ Your Neighborhood, Talk to Your Neighbors.” It shares a little bit of the story of this urban church and how the practice of dialogue and conversation transformed their congregation and, as a result, is transforming the broader community.

Chris shared with me an advance draft of the forthcoming e-book that goes further into telling Englewood’s story, which will be published soon by Patheos Press. It’s a beautiful and inspiring story, and one which I hope many faith leaders will read and consider.

On Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to actually visit Englewood and join them for their community dinner, and it was a treat to sit and talk with Chris about what is happening in and through the church and meet some of the men, women, and children from the community (many of whom live right around the church and in the Englewood neighborhood). Englewood is an old independent Christian church (who are cousins to the Disciples of Christ, my tribe), with a long history … a “turnaround church” story … a success story of “revitalization.” And Chris credits conversation — and (I would add) open, honest theological conversation — for that revitalization.

“The Conversation”
For quite a while now, the emerging missional church movement has been referred to as “the emerging church conversation.” I think this was initially just part of the nature of something that was seeking to earnestly embrace and embody epistemic humility, because to call this thing a “movement” might be to over-inflate the status or importance of it. And besides, that would jinx it, right?

So “the conversation” has been, for many us, shorthand for “the emerging missional church.” And indeed, it has been within this movement that the practice of conversation has been reclaimed and space for robust theological discussion has been created and nurtured. Emergent Village launched “cohorts” as local expressions of the movement where self-organizing groups could engage in conversation.

I still believe there is a great opportunity and need for Emergent “cohorts,” because there are still not very many churches engaging in theological conversation and creating safe(r) spaces for that to happen.

Church or Cohort?
As we talked over pork and beans in the Englewood basement hall, I shared this analogy of Emergent cohort with Chris, and he reminded me that churches (like Englewood) have advantages over Emergent cohorts in that they offer place (a sense of history and community), commitment (to a local body and shared ministry values/goals), and accountability (to move from talk to action).

I think he’s absolutely right, which is why I’m dedicated to lighting a fire under people to start churches, to form new missional communities of practice, to organize experiments in kingdom living. We will still need cohorts, but we also need churches and courageous leaders to open up those spaces for conversation that leads to action — for the good of the broader community and the world.

Meg Wheatley and Steve KnightConversations and Communities
Last summer, I had the privilege of meeting Meg Wheatley and Juanita Brown, the founders of the Berkana Institute and World Cafe, respectively. Meg’s writing on emergence theory went viral a few years ago (in Emergent circles, anyway), and her thinking has become very influential for many of us.

I was only vaguely familiar with World Cafe, and I was not aware at all of Juanita’s work with the Art of Hosting, as well. Core to both of those networks is “harvesting conversations that matter.” And Berkana Institute’s mantra is, “Whatever the problem, community is the answer.”

I think our religious/faith communities have much to learn from these two brilliant women and from all the participants in the networks they’ve started. We desperately need more faith communities (like Englewood) that recognize the power of conversations and are willing to do the hard work of cultivating and harvesting the riches that can come from them.



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Posted on 01-06-2012


  1. Roger Strom says:

    January 6th, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I long for this kind of conversation within my church experience. For the most part, I have needed to go outside of my church communities to participate in it. Great to read about Englewood Christian Church’s experience. Thanks!

  2. Susan Phillips says:

    January 6th, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Thanks, Steve Knight, for the encouragement. I would add that every congregation can begin listening in deeper ways. You don’t have to plant a new church to do it. This reminds me of community listening projects I joined back in 1990 šŸ™‚

  3. Brandy says:

    January 6th, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I don’t know what the future holds for Church In The Wild. Right now, it’s just a long awaited dream that is about to see light. But I find comfort and encouragement in your words for our house church plant. Good and true conversation has always been one of my most favorite things. I’m excited play a part in this emerging, missional movement.

  4. Brandy says:

    January 6th, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Also, I’d never heard of Meg Wheatley or Juanita Brown – they sound pretty incredible! I’m excited to check out your links!

  5. Steve K. says:

    January 12th, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Brandy, I’m excited to connect with you and talk more about the journey you’re on! Hope we can meetup and talk soon.

  6. Conversation As a Path to Transformation | Emergent Village says:

    February 20th, 2012 at 5:57 am

    […] conversation or participation but on coercion and capitulation.But I’m deeply encouraged by stories of faith communities like Englewood Christian Church on the near east side of Indianapolis. Chris Smith is the editor of the church’s Englewood […]

  7. Conversation As a Path to Transformation | | the online home of Steve Knight says:

    February 20th, 2012 at 6:56 am

    […] I’m deeply encouraged by stories of faith communities like Englewood Christian Church on the near east side of Indianapolis. Chris Smith is the editor of the church’s Englewood […]

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