You Can’t Change a Tribe

tribes-by-seth-godin1I’m reading Seth Godin’s new book, Tribes.  Godin packs his small book with pithy observations about the nature of “tribes” and the qualities tribes are looking for in leaders.  Although he doesn’t explicitly say this, it occurred to me that a small church is a tribe.  Small churches tend to be held together by families, tradition, or both.  

Pastors spend a lot of time trying to change the small church tribe into one with more appeal to outsiders. But, if we do, we kill the tribe.  Now there are times that tribe might need to be killed, but most of the time small churches serve their purpose well and the members of that tribe are fiercely loyal.  But that doesn’t mean that church leaders, pastors especially, shouldn’t be trying to gather a new tribe.  New tribes like a different type worship than the existing tribe.  New tribes dress casually, while the old tribe dresses in their Sunday best.  The new tribe might be younger than the existing tribe.  Or, the new tribe might be single instead of predominantly married.  You can’t change a tribe, but you can start a new one alongside it.  

Years ago Lyle Schaller remarked that “new people need new groups.”  Schaller was referring mostly to Sunday School classes for newcomers, but the same applies today to entire congregations.  Godin might say it this way, “New people need a new tribe.”  I’m going to try this one out.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

8 thoughts on “You Can’t Change a Tribe”

  1. That sounds very interesting! I will look forward to hearing how it goes and how you translate that concept into church.

    And, i am going to go and read his book 🙂

    Love your blog by the way

  2. LOVED this article. I need to read this book. I just faced an issue very simular to this where I am at. It was very refreshing to hear and be reminded I can still lead when others may not agree with my views, or dress, or age.

  3. I need to read that book. It rally makes sense, could be why a lot of visitors feel like visitors for a long time.
    What if there were no tribal culture. I would like your opinion.
    God bless your ministry. You are invited, WWYD, “What Would You Do” if somebody just gave you a church, no strings attached.

  4. The struggle is that the “old tribe” often resists the “new tribe” along side them unless, and until, they become like the old one. So, the new one doesn’t come or stay. We are a diverse church in many ways, and even we struggle with that some. Other churches I know have REAL struggles with it – most of them are dying as the “old tribe” dies. There’s no fresh tribe to replace them. How do we teach the old tribe to accept the new tribe AND their new ways, and vice versa?

  5. This is such a helpful paradigm for those of us who are probably “new tribe” to keep from being too harsh with the old tribe. Truth be told, we all like our own tribe.

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