If I had a dollar for every person who has asked me "So, what IS the emerging church?" we could meet our budget this year. Here's my own definition, and it is just that - my definition. Not the definition. When I use the term "emerging church" here's what I mean by that. (I feel like I'm walking into a mine field, but here we go....)
Christian communities that emerge out of very particular cultural contexts where the traditional church is basically irrelevant. These cultural contexts are more often than not urban, youngish and post-modern.
Emerging church is not a worship style. I know emerging churches that do traditional liturgy with Jazz (Mercy Seat), who use electronica (Church of the Beloved), who are acapella Gregorian chant (House for All Sinners and Saints) and who do nothing but old time Southern gospel (House of Mercy).
So, when trad churches in the suburbs are wanting to attract young people (with all the good intentions in the world) and they ape some kind of worship style they read about in a Zondervan book by starting an "emerging" worship service, it's a bit ironic.
Ok, now before you leave me angry responses let me say; this is not saying that there is something wrong with the traditional church. Trad church is often a faithful expression of Christian community. But my friends would have to culturally commute from who they are to who the trad church is. This is why I want to make a t-shirt that says "light all the candles you want to; they are not coming". The back of the shirt would say "It's ok to be who you are (traditional, suburban, small town, conservative, Methodist...what ever it is..... Be it."
For the record: I wanted to start a church in a context that I am native to. I am not "targeting a population" nor have I at any point had to ask myself "what is it they want"? They being post-modern urban young adults. I am they.