Culture Tribes

I attended a great conference earlier this week in San Diego – The Coast-to-Coast Multi-Site Conference. Presented by Leadership Network, Seacoast Church, Community Christian Church, and North Coast Church, it featured speakers such as Dave Ferguson, Larry Osbourne, and Mark Driscoll.

The recurring reasoning for sending their churches down the multi-site path (as opposed to church planting, or the ever popular “doing nothing”) was surprisingly NOT focused on church growth. In most cases, multi-sites were started out of a need for more building space, or because so many members commuted from another part of town. But every church blazing multi-site trails seems to understand one thing: we live in a Balkanized America.

There is no such thing as a “generation gap” anymore, and therefore, age-based evangelism is simply ineffective. We live in a society where your preferences define your culture. We live in a society where quality and options are expected. That is why there is a McDonald’s and a Burger King in nearly every US city. Or that Wal-mart and Lowes are spreading like wildfire, while mom-n-pop Ace Hardware’s can’t keep up. Cable television, the Internet, even FM/XM radio give American consumers everything they want, when they want it.

And who is the Church trying to reach? Well, the unreached of course. But what do they look like? Who are they? They are American consumers. They have a consumer mindset, and they will demand quality and options from you, even as a church. Hence, we see “box-store” churches such as Saddleback, WillowCreek, and Dallas Baptist. Those churches have the wherewithal and the resources to provide consumers with options and very high quality. You can’t tell a non-Christian to reject their personal consumerism at the drop of hat (or the rant of a pulpit). It is who they are. It is who we are.

Multi-sites provide the same quality and options as their parent campuses, but also have a unique “small-church” community feel. There should therefore be no question as to why multi-sites are spreading even faster than Wal-mart. Because of their size and flexibility, multi-sites have also now really tackled the culture question. Each multi-site is geared toward a specific culture tribe. Families with children? No problem. Goths, punks and loners? Sure. A retirement community? There’s a multi-site for that, too.

Here’s the bottom line: the most effective way to reach people is to embrace their culture. That is how we reach native tribes in Peru, and it is how we should reach American tribes in Tucson. I’m not talking about adding movie clips to sermons (a Family Guy quote comes to mind – “Hey! They’re playing music from The Matrix. We can relate to that!”). I’m CERTAINLY not talking about relativism – but I am talking about relevantism. Meet the people where they are. If the people prefer heavy rock music, hire a heavy rock worship band. If the people watch popular movies, actually TALK about popular movies (but don’t talk about Christian movies – that is about as culturally irrelevant as you can get, unless you are trying to reach deluxe-suburban-super-Christians). Multi-sites can even meet people where they are, literally. In coffee shops. In malls. In theaters.

Remember Revelation 5:9 (ESV) –

And they sang a new song, saying,

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.

“Every tribe and language” rings true with me. I’m ordering a few new books. Check out this list and see if anything might be interesting or relevant for you. They are all highly recommended.

I’ve even thought of a title and topic for my own book – “What The Hell Does it Mean to Be a Christian?” How does that sound? Hmm, it’s a work in progress. Sorry, rabbit trail.

I’m excited to be a part of the planning process for launching multi-site campuses and venues for Pantano Christian Church. Pantano has a global, Kingdom focus and a strong outreach ministry. In fact, it is safe to say that more resources are poured into outreach and meeting people where they are than any other ministry at Pantano. (But – please don’t assume that there is no maturity or spiritual development – Spiritual Formation is one of the four core values, and is put into action through sermons, Life Groups, Theology classes, and even a resource blog on the website). We already have the DNA and the infrastructure in place to support multiple campuses. And God has even thrown several opportunities onto our doorstep – a group of disconnected, disenchanted Christians in Sierra Vista; a growing number of attenders from Tucson’s West side; the 29th St Corridor and a large Hispanic population; an ever-increasing number of members expressing a desire for an “edgy,” postmodern or Emergent worship service…

It’s going to be an exciting year as we push the culture-envelope and bring the message to the people.

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Philip Cain

Ninja Master of the Series of Tubes, musician, audio engineer and geek. More about Philip...

One thought on “Culture Tribes”

  1. Thanks for picking up the book, Philip! I hope you find it helpful and entertaining. I’ll be interested in your thoughts considering your technical background.

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