Beyond church tribalism

The problem with most churches is not that they’re uncontextual, its that they’re too contextual for too narrow a segment of our culture. They are contextual for the tribe of white, aspirational, family-orientated people who like to play life safe. And consequently, not so contextual for people who are not. This segment is a significant segment of our culture, but only a segment.

The alt-tribal church

Now, one solution that has been suggested by the missional crowd is more tribal churches. To shift from a geographic focus to a demographic focus. But I have found geography has not been rendered irrelevant by globalization. Place still matters. Tribal churches greater chance of success where geography and demographics reinforce one another. For example, Goth friendly gatherings have more chance of success in dingy inner city suburbs than in leafy outer suburbs. Pagan friendly gatherings have more chance of success in Salem and Nimbin. Café churches have more chance of success in Café strips. Place still matters. When people wish to gather offline and not merely online, when people start bringing families and not just themselves, they don’t want to migrate half a city away every week. Even when they belong to the tribe, the tribal church may be too distant for more than an occasional visit. Place still matters. So tribal church is only half a solution.

The multi-tribal church

The other half of the solution, as I see it, is multi-tribal church. Genuine multi-tribal and not just white, aspirational mono-tribal masquerading as multi-tribal in their rhetoric. Multi-tribal needs to be modelled at every level, beginning with the leadership level. Multi-tribal needs to celebrate, and not just tollerate, tribal diversity. But when you have genuinely multi-tribal church, everybody, even the tribless, are in a cross-cultural situation … together.

Our church

It’s this latter approach that I see as necessary for my context. We live in one of the most multicultural suburbs in Sydney, which is one of the most multicultural cities in the Southern Hemisphere. We have over 50 languages spoken in some of the schools in our area. We have only a bit over a hundred people in our church. Even if we dispanded the church and sent out every man, woman and child in pairs we would not have enough to send someone to every tribe. And of course, not everyone is a gifted apostle or evangelist, so this is a rediculous expectation. What we can do though is learn how to be more embracing of any and every tribe. And be missional amongst whoever God places in our path.

But don’t think these approaches are unrelated. They are the two extremes of a broad spectrum. And contextualization is needed along the whole spectrum. Where is your place?

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