Is this discussion any good?

By the mid 1990’s it became clear that ‘alternative worship’ was not only here to stay, but that these communities based around the UK, Australia and New Zealand needed to keep in touch with each other. They were one of the first groups of Christians to really harness the power of the internet to build and maintain a sense of community that mostly existed in cyberspace.

Originally using an existing ‘Postmodern Christian’ email discussion group, they then set up a dedicated alt.worship email group where they could share resources, ideas and rants, formulate theology and chat with friends when the going got tough (sometimes known as the list). This combination of a shared vision, solidarity and an internet savvy approach to advertising who, what and why they were led to a profile and influence within the Church somewhat out of proportion to the numbers involved.

Whilst alt.worship has sometimes been a refuge for Christians hurting from experiences or looking for a safe place to experiment with faith, life and worship it has also carried a strong desire to share with anyone who might be interested, the ideas and experiences that make up alternative worship. It is this desire to share that led to the formation of a new email group for old-hands and newbies alike – a safe space where those interested in alt.worship and emerging church of all shapes could meet and dream and share together.

Recent conversations on the list have ranged from sharing members current favourite ‘spiritual tunes’ (a thread titled ‘god’s i-pod’) through to requests for details of emerging churches in particular locations. The conversation is sometimes intermittent but always stimulating and usually good fun too.

We asked current members of the group what they valued about belonging to it and there thoughts for how it might grow in the future – which prompted a discussion of it’s own. We reproduce some of it here in the hope you’ll want to join up too.

“I like the group and find it useful because as someone not able to physically connect very often with those in the UK or USA and elsewhere, to know that I can be instantly connected to a broad group of people in a way that isn’t ‘in their face’ is very helpful to me.

It enables me to be connected but at arms length until I or someone else chooses to decrease that gap by interacting with me in a more personal way. Which is to say that I can lurk and listen without having to be writing one-on-one emails to a whole lot of individual people. Since I know many on the list personally, this keeps me loosely but significantly in touch with them and with a broad range of activities that they and others are involved in. From time to time someone posts something that I find useful or stimulating.

I mostly like the list because it expects nothing of me. When it starts demanding that I contribute…I’ll be out of there. I’m very happy for the list to go dead quiet for long periods of time. I don’t feel the need to talk constantly to my friends, I just like to know that they are there for when some interaction or information is needed or can be contributed.

Over the years, this list and its predecessor have been very important in keeping me connected with people and ideas. Just today I raced out and bought the Depeche Mode album that Malcolm mentioned and already have the track lined up for Prayer of Confession on Sunday night. At the same time I found they’d produced a new version of Clean that was on the Dvd version of the same album, and I use that track a lot in communion services…so all that would have passed me by if I hadn’t been part of this international cyber community. Later this week I’ll be looking for other tacks mentioned by people on the list…and I’ll be listening to those albums while trying to finish my thesis on Stations of the Cross…so will be back to lurking…”
Steve, New Zealand

“I think this group is “under-used”. This could be because:

  • Some people have “gone off” email discussion lists, in favour of blogs (the Holy Fellowship of Solipsists… I speak as a blogger)
  • We get too much f****ing email as it is… (junk mail is killing the discussion list perhaps)
  • In times past (but not of late) we sounded a bit like a stuck record

However, I have benefited greatly from this list and the list (which carries barely any traffic). I also remember the heady days when the nearest thing we had was the ‘postmodern_christian’ list, until Tony Bowden invented the concept of alternative worship in cyberspace in late 93 or early 94.

Personally, I much prefer to spark off people – I’m an extrovert. It’s only the introvert shadow in me that does the blogging.

But if we take [recent conversations] as an example, we are tapping into a listening community via this route. In the blogosphere, there’s interconnectedness, but less community IMHO. (Maybe that’s another discussion topic, so if you want to respond, start another subject thread…)”
Paul, UK

“Hmm, this is difficult. As Paul says, the problem with email is that it is far too easy to abuse; my mailbox is half spam every day. But even so, I have found this list very helpful because:
a) You lot are really out there doing it; when I hear about alternative worship and emerging church, your names spring up all the time.
b) It’s a small group, so we all (well, I do) feel like we have a part to play. In some of the larger groups and forums I’m a member of, it’s easy to get lost in the melee.”
Chris, UK

To join ‘alternative-emerging’ go to: