by Rev. Laura Barclay
Church in the Inventive Age, by Doug Pagitt, is a book that aims to help American readers understand the changes happening in their church and world, and give them tools, examples, and options to not only adapt, but also to thrive. Pagitt posits that we have been through three ages already in America: the Agrarian, Industrial, and the Information. We are now delving into the Inventive Age, when everyone can be producers information through social networking sites. This age is also marked by people who care deeply about relationships, but who also recognize and encourage major shifts in authority. Pagitt explains each of the four ages clearly and concisely, covers current rifts in the church and provides hope for a way forward, and then advises churches on three different ways to serve proactively in the Inventive Age. Miraculously, he does it all in only 111 pages, and it only took me 2 hours to read it (including note-taking and underlining)!
Pagitt’s explanation of the four ages helps the reader to understand their history, as well as parts of our culture that are stuck in the past. He makes clear that elements of past ages still exist and are still the reality for many people in various parts of the United States, but his generalization of ages helps us to understand shifts in culture. The Agarian Age is everything before the mid-1800s. Communities were more homogeneous and rural, and the church was a small parish church that valued having a shepherd as a leader. The Industrial Age followed, from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. Many moved to the cities to find jobs and found themselves working side by side with more diverse people. There were many churches in one neighborhood to choose from, many catering to particular ethnicities or groups. The lines between denominations became more clear, and many churches modeled the magnificent buildings being built around them. The Information Age began in the mid-1900s, with many WWII veterans moving out of the city to own farms and create suburban communities. More people could read than before, and more schools were opening. Education wings were more widespread in churches, and it became an important cultural value to see churches as “learning centers” through Bible studies, programs, and classes (23). The pastor was, and still is in many churches, valued as a CEO type of minister, where people join and stay because of pastoral teachings and passive learning (mega churches are a good example of this model). Pagitt posits that we are now in an Inventive Age, with people increasingly comfortable creating their own content on the internet and deconstructing hierarchical structures. Authority is found in relationships. This is already leading to more conversational, emergent sermons with the pastor being the facilitator.
Pagitt helpfully points out that currently, neither the mainline or evangelical sides of Christianity have a good model. The evangelical group is willing to embrace new technology and ideas about where they meet for worship, but tend to be rigid on doctrines and values. The mainline group is more accepting in values, but is rigid in liturgy. Both could learn from one another, and embrace the cultural marks of the Inventive Age to move past their weaknesses.
Pagitt gives three models of churches with examples for how they can relate to the Inventive Age: churches for the Inventive Age, churches with the Inventive Age, and churches as the Inventive Age. These churches are essentially on a scale from welcoming those who think differently to fundamentally changing how to do church. One new church start hecites meets entirely online in a program called Second Life, with real people making avatars of themselves to meet and talk in a virtual church. Moreover, there are good examples of how this church has been redemptive to people who had been previously scarred by bricks and mortar churches.
Pagitt's ideas are valuable in this age of rapid change. He affirms the place of churches that fall into each of these categories, giving each type of church ideas on how to preserve their traditions while not becoming obsolete. Pagitt also gives churches hope for the future by encouraging them to be ahead of the cultural curve instead of lagging behind, as we so often tend to do. I would encourage pastors and church leaders to read this in a peer learning group or book study and have a discussion. See what kind of church you will be in the Inventive Age!
Doug Pagitt is a missional community leader, professional speaker, author, and radio host. Find out more about his book, Church in the Inventive Age, here.