I fully admit that even trying to nail this whole "emergent" thing down is a exercise in futility and that there are as many flavors of the postmodern manifestation of the Christian church as there are folks who do not want to be labeled as such.
But that does not keep me from trying.
One of the issues that I think is a baby elephant in many rooms is the role of and relationship between those "emergents" who's main religious experiences come from conservative evangelical roots and those who's foundations are borne out of positive mainline denominational ones. Or in other words – and to invite trouble – I would say that those that come from a more conservative evangelical experience are much more ready to declare any and all denominational reality as irrelevant and over. I just do not think that is a true or the only game in town when it comes to the new emergence of church life. In fact, I think without the historical perspective of some denominations any healthy institutional sustainability will be extremely difficult to achieve.
I have been to a few events that have been organized by the "E"mergent folks, I have read most of the books to read and I have thoroughly enjoyed and been fed the recent decade of conversations. I have learned a great deal about a great many folks and how people have come to this place of trying to play a role in the formation of some kind of Christian movement and presence.
I have also felt that there is some uneasiness that exists as an increased number of voices from mainline traditions have also joined the call to a new kind of emergence. With much of the traditional "E"mergent rhetoric about the end of denominational institutions, now here are a bunch of institutional folks who in many ways have been nurtured and do not see this as the end, but a rebirth of denominational identity, focus and influence.
I don't think that there is any particular conflict or tension between those who come to this place from different experiences, but I do think that those of us that have a mainline theological and institutional foundation must play an important role in the future of what it will mean to be the future of Protestant Church in America. The point of this is not to say that we want a place at some kind of table or that we need some kind of approval from certain folks, but more to simply verbalize what I think is a challenge for some of us to embrace our role in helping to define what is next for the institutional church.
In the end, I am not sure there is any great next step or strategy that we mainline emergents must take, but rather to boldly own what we have already been doing in so many places within, around and outside of our particular mainline traditions. We must keep redefining and reliving what it means to be church; we must engage with those who are pushing the limitations of our own experiences; and we must not be afraid to claim and embrace those parts of our institutional heritage upon which our institutional future depends.