Sunday, April 03, 2011

What was I thinking?!

I had an aha! moment yesterday. It occurred to me that any time I'm talking "missional" church (and I'm almost at the point where I want to jettison the term because I think it has become vacuous), I'm thinking about reaching individuals, or nuclear families, whereas I know from study in missiology that missions often reaches whole groups or tribes, not individuals.

Is it possible that this is one of the primary reasons that even though the church is trying to be missional, by and large it's failing? We're trying to be missional in an attractional way, attracting individuals or small families, rather than converting whole tribes. We're trying to participate in God's mission, but on our terms.

What does it mean to convert a tribe? Of course, we know some of the history of how that went, and the dangers. We do well to be careful. But I think there are some authentic and faithful ways to reach tribes with the gospel, and not just individuals.

And by tribes, I simply mean groups. I know groups of people who would probably only be open to faith in Christ if it was happening with their whole group. They don't plan to leave their clan. They share faith, whatever that faith is. I probably even belong to at least a few clans or tribes like this. Just try to get me to give up my Mac. Or indie music. Even my participation in church is like this. I'm fiercely loyal, and I wouldn't leave the ELCA unless the ELCA left the ELCA, and then I would probably go with them, wherever they go.

If you want to be on God's mission and reach a people group that really hasn't experienced the benefit of faith in Christ, what group would you reach? Why? How would you do it? That's the aha! question that has me thinking this week.


  1. There is food for thought in such a post, but I am wondering how "tribes" might be defined. I mean, the ELCA has attempted to establish congregations and outreach based upon race/ethnicity and largely failed at such measures. Would that be considered "tribal" outreach? Or would such outreach be centered upon the values and principles of a certain group? For instance: liberals or conservatives?

    The idea of group outreach is intriguing and a bit outside the box for me; however it does bear reflection in my mind. My congregation has been very successful in outreach based upon the "individual"/family model, but we've plateaued and I'm wondering about a change in approach.


  2. Kein, it's my understanding that actually some of our best and fastest growing mission churches are ethnic communities, like Hmong congregation, etc. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought that was true. Thanks for your response. I'm so new to the idea that I'm simply just getting my head around it at this point.

  3. Good point on tribes. They are everywhere and often right next to us. I go to my work tribe everyday -- it is a distinct culture (military) with so many people who fail to see God's grace. Then I get on the metro tribe -- those legions of unfriendly people who share a train traveling experience with others twice per day -- it's a tired looking group with very little social interaction. They need the light of Christ as well. Then, there's that tribe at our own congregations. They still need the apostolate. None of us should walk this earthly pilgrimage alone even as we worship Christ.

  4. Clint, I'm basing my comment on the minimal growth as a percentage of the ELCA that such ethnic groups represent. You may have me on the best and fastest growing mission churches. Yet, I do have to wonder how long such growth will last. The ELCA has a tendency of taking leadership out of these congregations and adding them to the church heirarchy which usually leads such congregations to struggle. But that's actually another topic.

    Brother Chris does make a few points relevant to the discussion, IMO. But I wonder...

    And like you, I am trying to get my head around it a little more.