The Emerging Church: Thinking Evolutionally and Acting Demographically

Published on: December 1, 2011

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I’m a field minister pioneering a new community (The Transformative Living Center, a.k.a. TLC), so contemplating the emerging church is a very practical exercise in thinking globally and acting locally. While preparing to launch TLC, I identified two major topics that I feel TLC, as well as all twenty-first century churches, must address. Handling these two issues—evolution spirituality and the demographics of aging—are essential to serving our constituents and society in ways that are relevant and meaningful to the trajectory of contemporary life.

In a series of lectures in 1981-1984, mythologist Joseph Campbell (The Inner Reaches of Outer Space) observed, “All the gods are dead and the new ones are yet to be born.” Campbell spoke this as a way of saying that the increase in humankind’s knowledge since the Enlightenment has made obsolete the underlying mythological stories of the world’s religious traditions. We need a new story that provides deeper meaning and greater relevance in light of the advances of scientific revelation and today’s realities.

There is movement toward a new mythology within the emerging field of Evolution Spirituality. During his series on “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity,” author Michael Dowd (Thank God for Evolution) maintains that the direction is toward an evidentiary-based spirituality. Dowd calls this the most significant shift in religious formation since Martin Luther tacked his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517.

Indeed, there is significant activity in Evolutionary Spirituality throughout contemporary Christendom as well as in secular movements such as Integral Spirituality. Leading these changes takes vision and courage.

One person who is truly pioneering in this field is Barbara Marx Hubbard. With the support of The Shift Network, Barbara is sponsoring an initiative called Birth 2012 leading up to a Planetary Birth Day on December 22, 2012. This is a call for a shift to Conscious Evolution—of seeing ourselves with deep-time spiritual eyes in the context of 13.7 billion years of evolution and committing to the idea of “evolution by choice, not chance.” Participation in Birth 2012 will be a significant spiritual commitment for the TLC community during the next two years.

Serving an Aging Demographic

TLC’s second area of focus will address issues related to the demographics of aging. In 2011, the first of 78 million baby boomers celebrated their 65th birthdays. Today, the population of people aged 65 and older already greatly exceeds that of any time in human history. By 2050, people in that demographic will constitute over 40 percent of populations of the United States and other developed countries.

The sheer force of numbers will lead to changes in social and economic areas. But for the emerging church, there is also the fact that the spiritual imperatives for those in the second half of life differ significantly from those of life’s first half. The first half is about “making a living” and the second half is about “making a life.”

In the past, the demographic balance tilted so heavily toward the first-half population that society in general, and the church in particular, had been very first-half oriented. Religious institutions have not truly supported the transition into, and experience of, the second half of life in terms of age-appropriate spiritual growth.

As an emerging church, our goal at TLC will be to provide a balanced approach to both halves, including supporting the transition into the second half of life and promoting a meaningful dialogue between people in both phases. Specifically, we will soon launch an initiative called “Thrive After 45!” and a course (under the working title of) “Spirituality for Grown Ups.” Our intention is to help each other live more fully every day, in every way, in a rapidly evolving environment.

Evolution Spirituality and the demographics of aging actually come together in a powerfully synergistic way. One view is that the increase in our species’ life span has resulted in a newly evolved model of homo sapiens: a species with 30+ more years inserted into the middle of life, not added to the end. This is evolution in action! These added years afford us the opportunity to look anew at the human life cycle and the spirituality related to it.

Our quest for meaning may most likely call for us to move from a metaphysical to a meta-evolutionary viewpoint. To do this, we need to co-create the new mythology that Joseph Campbell was calling for —one that integrates new theology, new cosmology, new physics, and new biology. As we work on this new world view as “Agents of Conscious Evolution” (to use Barbara Marx Hubbard’s term), we will truly be capable of thinking evolutionally and acting demographically!

Steve Maynard
Steve Maynard is founding minister of The Transformative Living Center (San Diego, CA) and co-founder, with his wife Olivia, of Thrive After 45!, an initiative serving people in the second half of life.

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