Tribal Church

I’ve been reading Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation by Carol Howard Merritt. According to Merritt:

A tribal church has certain characteristics. It understands and reaches out to the nomadic culture of young adults. This church responds to the gifts and needs of adults under forty by taking into account their physical, social, and spiritual circumstances. The term ‘tribal’ reflects (1) a gathering around a common cause, (2) a ministry shift to basic care, (3) the practice of spiritual traditions, and (4) a network of intergenerational encouragement. (p. 8)

I’ve read a lot of sociology of religion over the years and a great deal of congregational development material as well. I’ve rarely had the kind of “Eureka” moment I had while reading the following:

When a young person walks into a church, it’s a significant moment, because no one expects her to go and nothing pressures her to attend; instead, she enters the church looking for something. She searches for connection in her displacement: connection with God through spiritual practices, connection with her neighbors through an intergenerational community, and connection with the world through social justice outreach. (p. 17)

Having worked in a church in Boston in the 1980s, I already had sensed then that young adults were no longer coming to church (Of course, those young adults who didn’t come to church in the 80s are now in their 40s and 50s). It’s even more true today and much more true in Madison than it was in the South. But I had always interpreted it in negative terms–the only young adults who came to church were deeply needy (usually emotionally and psychologically). Merritt helped me to see that in a new way, as a wonderful possibility, as an attempt to make connection and reach out beyond themselves. She goes on in the book to talk about ways churches need to change to meet these needs and how pastors need to change as well.

We are doing some of this at Grace but we could do much more. We also need to change our expectations. She had some very interesting things to say about creating intergenerational community that involves people from across the lifespan and doesn’t segregate them out by age cohort.

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