Book review: Church in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt

Posted Feb 24, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Kenetha J. Stanton


Church in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt is meant to be a conversation starter for clergy and lay leaders who know their church is not functioning quite the way they would like in today’s world but aren’t sure what to change. Pagitt introduces two key ideas in this short book to frame his discussion.

The first thing he does is describe four cultural ages that the United States has moved through during its history: the Agrarian, Industrial, Information, and Inventive Ages. In each case, he describes the culture of each age through the lenses of the thinking, values, aesthetics, and tools (which he sets as analogous to the head, heart, gut, and hands of a body) that predominated in each time. Additionally, he demonstrates the ways that the church has evolved and adapted in each age to address the primary questions and needs of the surrounding culture in order to remain relevant.

After setting the stage with the four ages, he discusses ways churches need to adapt to the current Inventive age. Although Pagitt is well-known with much experience in the Emergent Church, he does not argue that every church needs to fully adopt every new thing that comes along. He suggests that all churches need to adapt to the changes that the Inventive Age brings, but that churches may do so by choosing to be for the Inventive Age, with the Inventive Age, or as the Inventive Age. Each of these looks quite different.

A church that is already healthy and vibrant may choose to continue doing the things that have made it so even if those things were created for a different age. These churches will need to become churches for the Inventive Age by making sure they bridge the gap by explaining their terminology and practices to newcomers. There is a need for these churches to continue.

A church that is working well with their current ways but sees an unmet need that they would like to address may choose to be a church with the Inventive Age by creating a sister ministry as part of the church that would reach out directly to the needs of the Inventive Age. This way of being can be challenging because of the cultural clashes inherent in sharing space with sister ministries that do things differently. Pagitt offers many tips to help address the potential pitfalls that may arise.

A church that chooses to be a church as the Inventive Age is one that is functioning fully within in the cultural norms of the Inventive Age—creative, participatory, inclusive, and collaborative. The description of churches that have chosen this way of being is particularly robust given Pagitt’s experience in this arena.

This book is relatively short and easy-to-read, which makes it a great conversation starter, but its brevity also means that some of the historical analysis is over simplified. However, it provides enough context and structure for his discussion of churches in the Inventive Age despite its analysis. This is a great read for any church leader—clergy or lay—who is trying to figure out how.

While this book does not address the use of new media or social media in the church specifically, it does provide a cultural framework and a method for determining how a church might interact with the Inventive Age that is useful for churches that are trying to decide how to use these technologies in their congregations. The choice that a particular congregation makes about whether it wants to be a church for, with, or as the Inventive Age will provide direction for how they can best use the tools that social media and new media provide to be both authentic and relevant in this age.

Kenetha J. Stanton, the research and administrative assistant for the New Media Project, is also a trained librarian.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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