Friday, May 29, 2009
What to do about Rural Emergents?
So I've been responding to a lot of requests for new Emergent Village cohorts lately. (I'm on the Emergent Village Cohorts Team, and whenever someone fills out the request more info form on the EV site I'm one of the ones it comes to - we average at least one or two a week, sometimes more.) The problem is that a lot of them are coming from folks in very small towns and rural areas. Often they are the only "emergent" person they know of in their whole area, and frankly, there's a good chance they actually ARE the only emergent person in their whole area. I send them the information about how to start a cohort anyway, but, as one of them was kind enough to point out to me, our advice works a lot better for folks who are in urban or suburban areas (where there are coffee shops to hang out at, local colleges to advertise at, and a wide diversity of churches to draw from) than it does for rural, small town folks.

So that's my question: what can we (i.e. Emergent Village folks, and those of us on the cohorts team especially) do about that? What can we do for folks who are desperate to join the emerging church conversation, but are in very isolated areas where they don't just feel like the only crazy one out there, they most likely are the only crazy one out there, at least in an hour driving radius?

- Are cohorts still the best structure for these folks?
- If yes, how do we help them find others in their areas to start these cohorts with?
- If no, what other kinds of structures could we create that would help rural emergents plug into the emerging conversation?

Any ideas?

Update (6/29): Out of this conversation over the past few weeks has come a google map to help people connect with other emergents and existing communities near them, as well as a new online cohort, Emergent Outliers, for isolated and rural emergents. Check them out!

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posted by Mike Clawson at 11:25 PM | Permalink |


At 5/30/2009 07:28:00 AM, Anonymous Nate

Hmm... how to be a hipster in the hinterlands...

(Sorry. Too early for serious thought, but never too early for bad alliteration!)


At 5/30/2009 11:41:00 AM, Blogger Steve K.


I realize there may be technological limitations as well as geographical ones, but one idea might be to coordinate a monthly online videocohort using a free online videoconference service like Tinychat or Tokbox. Someone would have to coordinate it and "make it happen," and getting people's schedules from all over the country to line up would certainly be more difficult, but that's one possible solution.

Steve K.


At 5/31/2009 07:41:00 PM, Blogger Mike

I hear people's critiques that EV is acting as a proxy for book publishing, and I have felt some sympathy for this position at times. But the more I talk to folks who are interested in emergence Christianity, the more I see the value of books. They're not nearly as good as talking to real people in real time and space, but they provide a nice entry point and thought-provoker for people who want to explore more.


At 5/31/2009 07:57:00 PM, Anonymous themattscott

Blake Huggins was also throwing around the idea of an e-cohort. It's certainly no substitute for face to face interactions, but having felt like the only emergent around before, I would have loved even having that interaction.

On the other hand, I think that we (emergents) aren't doing quite as good of a job of networking as we think we are. I was surprised to find a rather rural emergent community thriving in what I had assumed was a fairly homogeneous conservative area. Perhaps we find some way to better network communities (beyond just cohorts).


At 5/31/2009 08:00:00 PM, Blogger Jim Marks

It is hard enough connecting in cities. I've been in Chicago for two years, and aside from the few suburban events I attended when I was working in the suburbs, it has been impossible to connect with anyone. The only inside-city-limits group that meets is clear on the other side of the city, over an hour on public transit.

I refuse to believe I'm the only one on the entire south side of Chicago who's interested, but can't seem to make any connections.

In anticipation of the move to Houston I've been trying to contact all the people listed as the Emergent Houston cohort and haven't received a single response.

Again, it cannot be possible that I'm the only person in Houston interested, but can't seem to make any connections. (The one I did make just moved -out- of Houston).

I think feeding people into and creating new cohorts has to be one of the key roles for EV and right now it seems like a real struggle to manage even without the problems of rural distances.

Maybe my situation is completely singular and most people hook up in city settings really easily, but I can't imagine trying to work this out when you don't have population density on your side.


At 5/31/2009 08:19:00 PM, Anonymous Jeff

You've hit an important issue for me... Online conversation is valuable and certainly has its place, but it is not the same as in person conversation.

I routinely drive 1+ hours for denominational meetings without complaint as do many, many rural folks. What's needed, it seems to me, is better communication. I often drive through small towns on my way to a meeting somewhere and ask myself, "I wonder if there's anyone in this town who thinks like I do?" If there were an interactive map somewhere of people interested in a regional cohort of sorts, perhaps something more could happen...


At 5/31/2009 09:19:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Great thoughts so far guys. Keep talking. I'm interested in all of these ideas.

BTW, Jim mentioned that it would take him an hour on public transit to reach the downtown Chicago cohort, and Jeff pointed out that rural folks are often accustomed to driving an hour to get places sometimes. Putting both of those together it occurs to me that perhaps we just need to expect/encourage people to invest a little more time and effort into getting to cohort gatherings. If you're hungry for it, is an hour or two drive every month or so too much to ask? The last few years I was in Chicago I had to drive about an hour each way to get to the cohort I led. Since it was important to me, it wasn't really a big deal.

Though if that's too much to ask of people on a monthly basis, perhaps rural cohorts could try meeting more infrequently. Would folks be willing to drive an hour each way if it was only every 2 or 3 months?


At 6/01/2009 09:58:00 AM, OpenID tikesbestfriend

There is a difference between an hour long rural drive, and an hour long urban drive. One has a constant flow (usually above 55mph), and the other is lucky to be above 20mpg. One may have nice scenery, while the other consists of buildings, on/off ramps, and more buildings. One usually has more frequent encounters of road rage, while the other is lucky to encounter up to 10 fellow travelers.

I've lived in both areas, made both trips. I've driven the hour to see a concert, from a rural setting. I've also commuted an hour to work (13 miles) through Houston when I worked in the hospital district. An hour in the city is worse than an hour in the country, imo.

Concerning Rural cohorts, communication can really be the key. However, it takes more from the individual to seek out like minded others. You can only do so much for them, and their success (at finding others) isn't up to you. Part of our generation (35 and under) are used to saying "gimme, gimme, gimme." Well, some times it just can't be done for you.

Tim Dahl


At 6/01/2009 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Corey

I think Steve K.'s idea about online cohorting would be helpful. Obviously, it might not be the optimal solution, but it least it helps connect people in some way.

I like the interactive map idea, too.
That would be a great way to find out if there are any cohorts or even individuals nearby. Given, of course, the obvious privacy/safety issues, it could still be a good resource.


At 6/01/2009 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Mike

I agree with Tim Dahl's comments about initiative. If the cohorts are to have any vitality at all, we need to find a way to empower/prod/provoke people to grab the reigns and *make* something happen. I understand and applaud the humility that leads one to look for an existing group, but I hear too much complaining/critiquing the absence of and/or insufficiency of the cohorts. If emergence be emergence at all, it will require than individual agents of this emergence take action and create some conversational space for themselves. I think the work that Mike Clawson and others do is important, but it's limited and needs to be supplemented by a firm and gentle invitation to inquirers that they get in the game themselves. To not do so is to deprive the larger group of the insights of those looking to participate.


At 6/03/2009 12:47:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Just to clarify (Tim & Mike), what I do when someone contacts EV about starting a new cohort is simply give them a list of advice about things they can do to try to find others near them, and, if anyone else from their area has contacted us, I pass those names along. That's pretty much it. I'm not "doing it for them". It's entirely up to them to put in the effort to actually look for others and start meeting.

The problem is that the advice I give about how to find other people works okay for urban/suburban areas, but not so great for rural areas. Rural areas don't (usually) have nearby colleges they can advertise at, or big ministry conferences/events nearby, emergent-friendly churches in the area, or even a suitable local hang-out spot (coffee shop, etc.) Nor are they likely to turn up many others through the various web searches we recommend.

As for the video-cohort idea, I'm not sure. First off, some rural areas don't even have decent internet service to make this possible. Secondly, most people who contact us have already connected to the conversation "virtually" (through blogs or whatever). What they're hungry for is face to face contact.

I'm thinking that regional events can help somewhat. We need more stuff like the Midwest Emergent Gathering we did in Chicago a few summers ago, or McLaren's book tour last year. Those can serve as a draw for people from all over a region, and give rural folks a place for the face-to-face connections, even if they only happen once or twice a year. I wonder if there's more we can do to actively encourage/equip local cohorts to put on these sorts of events. For instance I know my wife and I are wanting to put on several events in various cities next summer related to her forthcoming book that can hopefully also serve as regional Emergent Gatherings, and we'll definitely be getting the cohorts involved in those.


At 6/03/2009 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Jeff Kursonis

Hey there's also a rural emergent blog that just started, I think Steve Knight referred me to it....


At 6/03/2009 02:18:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Very cool Jeff. I'll see if they want to be listed at the EV site.


At 6/03/2009 02:23:00 PM, Blogger Mike

Thanks for the clarification, Mike. I'm glad to hear that you're giving inquirers a friendly greeting and a firm push to engage themselves in the conversation. I must be reacting against more fickle folks who seem to sit back and insist that some vague *someone*, somewhere, start new cohorts and/or improve the ones already in place. Sorry to point my frustration toward you. Please accept my apologies.

And Jeff's link reminded me-- a person who lived in a rural area myself-- of the potential imposition of one's friends and neighbors. You might call this 'nosiness', but it is much more than a small irritation. The movies I watched, the things I did, what I drank, the people I hung out with, and the conversations I had were all subject to scrutiny and gossip. I remember reading BMac's first book in secret, and talking to only one person about it (besides my wife). That social pressure was unfortunately a major contributor to our moving to a larger town.

All to say, yes, Mike is on to something. I think rural folks might *prefer* to drive a ways from their homes, just to find some relative anonymity. But the lack of '3rd space' places to hang out is a huge challenge, too. And once you get back-- if your rural neighbors are like my rural neighbors used to be-- you're likely to be asked, "So where were you last night?"


At 6/04/2009 10:44:00 PM, Anonymous Rachel H. Evans

I'm really sorry that I'm late to this conversation because this is something I think about often. I live in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, and one of the most conservative little towns in the country. Needless to say, it gets lonesome out here. I echo Mike's comment about the importance of books...For a lot of us, books are our only exposure to these new ideas, and blogs are our only way to interact with them.

(I wrote my own book, actually, which will be published by Zondervan in 2010...but enough of the shameless promotion.)

For me, the problem isn't so much logistics - I would be willing to drive an hour, meet in homes, meet at McDonald's, whatever - if I could just FIND other people. (Heard from anyone from Chattanooga, Mike?)

I like the idea of regional meetings, but honestly, one of the most helpful things for me would be to know if there are any churches in the area that are "emergent-friendly." My husband and I have really struggled to find a church that embraces emergent-type perspectives. Perhaps if there was some place on the site where one could do a search to see if any such churches come up - I'm guessing the information would be based on information from cohorts and the connections of the people running the site.

I guess determining what constitutes "emergent-friendly" might be a challenge...but even if we could just get plugged in to a church that has a small group or some members of a like mind, that would be a wonderful change.


At 6/04/2009 10:57:00 PM, Blogger Mike

Rachel, there are obviously too many Mikes around here... Not sure which one of us you're asking about Chattanooga, or why. But I do happen to have a bunch of friends and family in Chattavegas, so if you want some leads, find my blog, pretend to comment on something there, and I'll email you ;-)


At 6/04/2009 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Rachel, glad you came by. I don't know of anyone near you that have requested a cohort, but I'll try to let you know if we get a request.

As for churches, I'm actually currently working on my own personal google map of every emerging church that I'm aware of. It'll take me a while but I'll make it public once its close to being done. I agree that Emergent Village needs to have something like that too, we're actually discussing that right now on the Cohort Leaders Google Group. The thing is any church that is linked from the EV site would have to choose to be listed there, since there are a lot of churches that probably wouldn't want their name associated with EV. (My list, on the other hand, will be solely my own creation and not affiliated with EV, so I can put whoever I want on it :)

The only thing a quick google search turned in your area is this church in Chattanooga. Are you familiar with it? I don't know anything about it, but it looks vaguely "emerging".

Oh, and I just noticed that this United Methodist church in Chattanooga is hosting a conference with Brian McLaren & Tony Campolo in November. That would seem to indicate an openness to emergent type stuff.

Speaking of that, have you looked into more "liberal" mainline denomination churches in your area (e.g. United Methodist, Presbyterian Church-USA, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, etc.)? They may be way different than you're used to if you're coming from an evangelical background, but you'll probably find a lot more of the theological openness you're looking for.

BTW, I'll look forward to reading your book when it comes out!


At 6/05/2009 07:15:00 AM, Anonymous Rachel H. Evans

Thanks so much for the warm and helpful response. We have been going to an Episcopal Church in Chattanooga recently, and have been surprised by how many young "burned-out evangelicals" we have met there. That may end up being a good fit.

"Ethos" is associated with Church of God, and I've heard good things about First Centenary before, especially regarding its care for the poor in the community...great to know that McLaren and Campolo will be stopping by. Yay! Thanks for the heads-up.

A map would be great as well.

I really appreciate your interest in this subject, and I'm enjoying the site. Added Emerging Pensees to my Google Reader.

Other Mike - I'll check out your blog and try to post a comment sometime soon. :-)


At 6/09/2009 03:34:00 PM, Blogger Jim Marks

To clarify what I was trying to express.

One thing I'd say is, if you live somewhere rural, and are accustomed to driving an hour or more to get to things, that's part of the "pros and cons" of living somewhere rural. Long travel times is a con, but it is out-balanced by some suite of pros which make it "worth it".

I -hate- long travel times, which is why I prefer city living to country living. There are a LOT of cons to city living. A LOT. But they aren't out-weighed by my hatred of travel times. So I expect/demand that things be close. Because having things nearby is -why- I live the way I live.

Also, at least in the case of the cohort in Chicago, it seems like there was no attempt to hold the meeting in anything remotely like "neutral territory". At one point there were sub-groups that were supposed to be north, south and west, but it seems only one thrived, and has kept its northern location. So it is less about specifically having to travel an hour, and more about having to travel and hour when most of the rest of the group may only have to walk down the block. If this is the only cohort in the third largest city in the country, having it in Wicker Park is not a great way to go about including people from all over the city because that is a particularly obnoxious neighborhood to reach. The train line there is under construction and the bus routes are over-crowded and slow. Spreading out the travel to everyone might actually grow the group faster by making it something people from all over the city feel like they can be a part of, instead of restricting it to (I'm going to say it) the hipsters who live in hipsterville, which as a total tangent, does nothing to help dispel the myth that emergence is about hipness.

Maybe it is because what I'm looking for is very particular. Maybe it is because I want something more regular than once a month. Maybe its just that I have really high expectations of what large cities can offer.

If I was enjoying the peace, quiet, solitude, and rhythmic life of living in the country, I wouldn't mind driving quite a distance once a week to spend time with people in valuable conversation. But if I'm going to put up with noise, light pollution, crowds, filth, and the rest, I want some convenience as a trade off and I have an assumption that there are enough people in a city of this size that it shouldn't be difficult to get it.

I simply refuse to believe I'm the only person south of Wacker who has any interest in these conversations in a city this big. But where's the network to tap into the find them? That's the question.

I'm moving to Houston and right now my mark is the only mark on the map for that entire region of the state of Texas. Can't possibly be right. There -was- a cohort in Houston. Where did they go? Why don't they answer email anymore? Their blog was active just two months ago.

This is what I'm trying to address more than just the question of "its too far". Its the question of "where is everyone?" The movement can't really be this small.


At 6/09/2009 07:33:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I really don't know Jim. I know if it's a matter of the movement being too small so much as everyone in it just being really busy. The conversations happen when and where there are people willing to put in the time and effort to make them happen. The up/ cohort is in "hipsterville", as you put it, because that's where the folks who were willing to do it were from. Same with the west group, same with north group. But a lot of groups only last for a little while because everyone in them has churches and jobs and families and is frankly just too busy living it to always organize opportunities to talk about it. I wish that weren't the case, but I'm not really sure what to do about it. At any rate, this map is just getting going, but my hope is that over time it will become more of a resource that can help out folks like yourself.


At 6/09/2009 09:49:00 PM, Blogger Jim Marks

Maybe I have a totally inflated sense of the size of the conversation. Maybe there genuinely is no one else on the entire south side of Chicago with any interest. But if that's the case, then it seems to me that the question of rural persons can hardly have a meaningful resolution, can it? If in a city of 3 million people with a population density of 12,000 every square mile that there are only enough of us to maintain one cohort in a decentralized neighborhood, in areas where you're measuring population density in terms of miles per person instead of persons per mile... oy.


At 6/09/2009 10:17:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"Maybe I have a totally inflated sense of the size of the conversation."

I think that's very likely the case Jim. Honestly, while I think emergent ideas have had a wide (and still expanding) ripple effect, I don't think the number of actual, self-identified "emergents" (i.e. folks who would be interested in joining an Emergent Village cohort) is necessarily very large, even in a place like Chicago. But of course I think the former is a lot more important than the latter anyway (though I am still working to increase the latter as well).


At 6/29/2009 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks to everyone for your participation in this conversation. Out of it has come a google map to help people connect with other emergents and existing communities near them, as well as a new online cohort, Emergent Outliers, for isolated and rural emergents. Check them out!


At 11/11/2009 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Rachel, I don't know if you'll see this or not, but I wanted to let you know that we've had a contact from someone in Chattanooga who is interested in starting an Emergent cohort there. His name is Jeff Mathis, and you can email him at jeffpmathis(at)gmail(dot)com.

Also, we did go ahead and create a google map for Emergent Village. You can find that here and add yourself to it if you'd like.


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