Church Planter Tribes


One of the challenges for church planters is identifying with a tribe. By tribe, we can note that it is a "social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture." Right or wrong, it's been a term that's been culturally appropriated and used as sociological groupings, in marketing, etc. "Today, however, we can define tribes as something less critical, like individuals who are linked by their social interests."

For this article, I'm using it as a sociological or cultural grouping. A few years ago I picked up and read the book Bike Tribes: A Field Guide to North American Cyclists. It was an interesting book that identified all of the subspecies of cyclists. Written almost like a tongue-in-cheek birding field guide it broke down all of the different kinds of cyclists out there. However, it was more than about what kinds of bikes they rode but the cultural characteristic of each tribe. For example, within mountain biking there are enormous differences between the downhill tribe and those who ride lightweight XC bikes ... culture, language, attire, heroes, etc.

Right or wrong, I think of church planters as missionaries. However, that doesn't mean they see themselves that way. But as missionaries one of the activities that is at the forefront of their efforts is to identify with a tribe and become an insider (or should be). Unfortunately, a lot of church planters I know run in the "ministry tribe" or "church planter tribe" and identify with and hang out with other ministry people. Sure, they may try and connect with neighbors, have people over, etc, but their true identity and cultural tribe is found in other church planters. The church planter tribe.

Houston, we have a problem.

Church planters need a tribe other than their own kind. Until then they'll continue to simply be an outsider and as such relationships are more forced and unnatural. Listen, I know church planters dream of their fledgling churches growing large enough where they can have a cool office with all of their books, spend hours writing sermons, leading their staff, hanging out with other pastors, speaking at conferences, and figuring out which local coffee roaster to use for Sunday mornings. But if your whole social network is other ministry people then your church will simply be another statistic ... that most growth is transfer growth.

That's why you need to join a tribe.

What do you love to do? Who are you outside of ministry settings? What are your interests? If you can't answer that maybe then that's the crux of the problem. If your primary interests and hobbies are all ministry-related then your likelihood of connecting with people who don't identify with and follow Christ diminishes.

Why are tribes important?

Tribes are crucial because they are that intersection where your life naturally crosses paths with others. Relationships happen organically and naturally. People connect with you because of your mutual interests and not because they are your project to get them into your church. People can see it a mile away if they're your project or not. Also, that's a bit creepy.

Church planters, it's time for you to join a new tribe. It's ok, this will make you a better missionary.