Tribal Church

AL337Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation

2008 Award of Merit from Religion Communicators Council
Christian Century’s Top Ten Practical Theology Books of 2008

Many churches are seeking ways to reach out to younger generations. Unfortunately this often manifests as either a “come be just like us!” attitude—suggesting an unwillingness to change in order to be inclusive of young people—or as a slick marketing campaign that targets young adults in much the same way secular advertising does. Both of these approaches often leave young adults feeling that their particular spiritual gifts and needs are unwanted by the church. “We only want you for your demographic” is the message given.

Carol Howard Merritt, a pastor in her mid-thirties, suggests a different way for churches to be able to approach young adults on their own terms. Outlining the financial, social, and familial situations that affect many young adults today, she describes how churches can provide a safe, supportive place for young adults to nurture relationships and foster spiritual growth. There are few places left in society that allow for real intergenerational connections to be made, yet these connections are vital for any church that seeks to reflect the fullness of the body of Christ.

Using the metaphor of a tribe to describe the close bonds that form when people of all ages decide to walk together on their spiritual journeys, Merritt casts a vision of the church that embraces the gifts of all members while reaching out to those who might otherwise feel unwelcome or unneeded. Mainline churches have much to offer young adults, as well as much to learn from them. By breaking down artificial age barriers and building up intentional relationships, congregations can provide a space for all people to connect with God, each other, and the world.

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Pomomusings Review
Presbyterians Today Review
General Board of Discipleship Review
Metro Lutheran Review
Hearts and Minds Bookstore Blog Review
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Metro Lutheran Review
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9 thoughts on “Tribal Church

  1. This is a fine book! It’s a tonic that I’d love to give to all my aging boomer buddies who wonder “what’s wrong with our church?” as well as to the seminarians I work with who know! It’s my hope that this book will change the conversation about what’s needed in our churches as we begin to see what it might look like to have communities of faith that offer an embracing welcome as well as compelling opportunities to serve.

  2. Pingback: Synablog » Blog Archive » Synagogues that get …tribal?

  3. Thank you for this book! I enthusiastically read it, almost in one sitting. I have a particular love of my daughters’ generation, which is yours, which is tribal. Thank you for lending me your lens for seeing. As a pastor of a richly intergenerational church, with promise that walks around in the skins of these great 25-45 year-olds, I’m truly blessed. Ours is less a ministry TO the missing generation than a ministry OF multiple generations. We have had young leaders throughout our short history, so I believe this practice is in our DNA.

    There are particular challenges for us, however, in this model of being church. The congregation needs the stability of leadership that is consistently present. The daunting list of places a young family must be in any given week (school, sports, work, etc.) leaves little space for young leaders’ physical presence in the church. Effective leadership requires ample time for preparation and reflection, an even more elusive element of presence. Especially if the young leader comes to the task without experience in church, the kind of dedication it takes to ride the rough spots simply is not there. Young leadership can evaporate as quickly as it appears.

    I believe a setting such as ours requires diligent leadership training and development. Sometimes this is really hard work,and it never ends. What other insights or advice do you have for me?

  4. You have picked up on one of the most significant challenges of younger generations: Time. It used to take forty hours of labor to support a household, and now it takes at least eighty. That leaves very little time for volunteering, teaching Sunday school, or going to meetings.

    And yet most of our churches (perhaps not yours, since it sounds like a new one), were formed when women had many hours, talents, and energy that was not always appreciated in society, but very much needed in the church.

    It seems like young adults will volunteer and lead when (1) they know that their time is going to be spent wisely, (2) they know that their actions are going to have an impact on their families, or (3) they know that their actions are going to have an impact on the world.

    Our young adults volunteer for teaching Sunday school, serving food for the homeless, making food for the women’s shelter, thinking about how to make the church more green, creating more opportunities for the use of technology.

    As a generation, our young adults are very pragmatic and innovative.

    Thank you so much for reading the book!

  5. Pingback: Intergenerational Relationships: A Necessity for Today’s Church | Faith in Action

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  7. Hi Carol. Just dropped in to your blog via ‘The Other Jesus’ blog.

    “…Carol Howard Merritt, a pastor in her mid-thirties, suggests a different way for churches to be able to approach young adults on their own terms.”

    After skimming through the above paragraphs I was reminded of an incident after visiting a church one Sunday evening in Brighton (UK) some years ago. The service was over and I was about to be warmly greeted with a handshake from the gentleman at the exit door. However a young man was about to pass by behind me and so the hand extended to me simply ‘passed by me’ and was quickly extended to the young man, together with a hearty greeting of ‘please do visit us again’.

    Being half way into my sixties, and knowing just how empty the churches were in the UK I gave a warm smile to the young man and sauntered off down the dimly lit church path towards the street. As I wandered off I thought of how sad it was that young people are seldom found in churches here these days and any warmth extended to them is sorely needed – in whatever form it appears . . .

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