In recent years, there have been all sorts of new things percolating, from the new monasticism of Shane Claiborne to The New Friars by Scott Bessenecker and The New Conspirators by Tom Sine. Tony Jones has just released The New Christians, which describes different kinds of approaches to Christianity, and there's also something of a neo-Reformed/New Calvinists movement afoot. In counterpoint, the "New Atheists" like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have been increasingly vocal.
In a completely different realm, for some years now the New Urbanist movement has called for a more sustainable approach to urban planning and land development, with walkable neighborhoods that minimize automobile use and facilitate community and human interaction. Principles of the new urbanism have been applied in suburban contexts, with efforts toward a "new suburbanism" and work being done on "sustainable suburbs."
Well, I seem to be sitting at the convergence of these different worlds. I've been invited to be part of a project that is working toward a new Christian vision for suburbia, both in terms of how the church lives out its faith and practice, as well as how the suburban landscape itself is configured. There's a growing movement of suburban Christians who are dissatisfied with how things are and are thinking creatively about how we can live differently.
At this early stage, there's nothing concrete to announce yet, partly because we haven't quite settled on a good name for all of this. "New Suburbans" sounds like a bunch of new SUVs. "New Suburbanites" is slightly better but a bit generic. "New Suburbanists" has the advantage of paralleling the "New Urbanists," but it lacks any distinctively Christian content.
So we've also been playing around with things that might tie in to the various emerging church movements. "Suburgent" is an interesting possibility because it evokes things like Presbymergent and Anglimergent, and I like that "urgent" is part of the word and adds a sense of urgency to the idea. But the suburban part of it isn't quite as clear, and it could be confused with the already-existing Submergent community. It also sounds like an ad for Subway: "Be suburgent - eat subs now!" Another possibility is "Suburbant" but that struck me as blah - suburban ants? And there was also "Suburbent," which looks misspelled, or like it's about suburban ents, or that the suburbs are bent (which is interesting, but do we want to self-identify as bent?).
It's really hard to come up with a good name! I really like the phrase Missio Dei Suburbia, but that's taken. It might be better to go with something straightforward like "Missional Suburban Christians," but that's a mouthful, and who knows if "missional" will still mean anything in three years?
Another possibility is "post-" something, since there are all these postconservative, postliberal, postmodern, postevangelical things happening. (I'm waiting for the post-emerging/postmergent community to emerge, or demerge, or something.) Is it accurate to call ourselves "post-suburban"? That doesn't seem quite right, because we're still suburban, though we're looking toward a different kind of suburbia. And it would be weird for me to self-identify as a post-suburban Christian - I'd have to change my book title and blog name.
At any rate, interesting things are afoot! If anybody out there has a suggestion for a good name for this movement, let me know - we're very open to ideas. And we hope you'll come and join us!