Thursday, December 04, 2008

Book Club -- Tribal Church

This month Book Club is back with a Blogring author, Carol Howard Merritt's Tribal Church. I wanted to do something a bit different since Carol is one of our own -- in other words, I have her email address. So, I emailed her some questions to start Book Club off with some of her own thoughts about the book. You do know what happens when you combine a wordy lawyer and a book author? Yea, you get a lot of words. We would take over the whole front page of the Blogring and then some. So, I pdf'd the Questions and Carol's Responses and was going to attach them to this post -- except I couldn't figure out how. So, I improvised. The Questions and Responses are on a page on my blog -- which none of you have read -- Consumer Law Updates. Check it out, and then come right back and join in the fun.

Tribal Church is a book aimed at how to bring younger adults (those under 40) back to church -- or to church for the first time. To my way of thinking, it is much more cross generational than its author realizes. The book discusses issues facing young adults and ways that the church can more effectively address those issues. One of the recurring themes in the book is that churches need to understand the extent to which financial issues affect young adults. Since I am a Bankruptcy lawyer by trade and we live in very interesting financial times, that was a theme that attracted my attention. It is not a long book, and it is a fast easy read. So, if you haven't read it yet -- do.

Let's see if we can't get some good discussion going in the Comments section. Here are a few questions to get you started.

1. What does your church do to be family friendly? Consider facilities, equipment, childcare, programs, anything else that you think you do well.

2. What attitudes about money, and particularly debt, does your church project? Is that what you want?

3. What have you tried to do to foster Inter-Generational relationships?

4. What parts of this book do you think have application to older adults as well?

5. How do you use the sense of community within your church to further your church's mission?

Jump into the comments, and let the discussion go where it may!



B-W said...

I'm a comparative newcomer to my current church. Have been attending for about 2 years, a member for just over 6 months. And although I help teach Sunday School on occasion and am in the ordination track (a second time! Long story), I'm not on staff there.

So I may not be the best person to answer these questions, but I'll give it a shot.

1) Our church just finished a major renovation of one of our buildings to accommodate our children's program--especially the "Godly Play" curriculum we use on Sunday mornings. The Sunday worship gathering is structured in such a way that children are present for the first half of the time, up to and including a children's sermon, and then excused for Godly Play. On Sunday's when communion is celebrated, the children return to partake with their families. The church is trying to strike a balance between keeping children around as part of the current church family, while recognizing that they do indeed have different needs, attention spans, etc.

2. The money issue is especially interesting, not just because of the current economic climate, but because of that recent renovation project. We're actually a fairly small church with meager resources. The budget for the renovation project alone was considerably more than the church's usual annual budget. Yet, between a generous anonymous donation, which itself challenged the congregation to come up with a certain amount of the money for the project on its own, we managed to collect what was needed, all within the timeframe we needed it. (Thanks be to God!)

But our "usual" small budget means that only the pastor has a full-time salary. We do have a part-time secretary/Children's Education Director and a person who we hire on an "as needed" basis to do custodial work. We also have several unpaid interns, which is a pet peeve of mine. The work they are doing deserves payment! They're already paying large sums of money to attend seminary, and cannot work in a full-time paying job, if indeed they have any time left to do a job at all after what they do for the church and for their studies. In Southern California, where most families need two incomes to survive (even if there are no children, truth be told!), this means that they're going into debt to finance survival during this time (Carol talks about this kind of thing a lot in her book, which I confess I've only so far finished the third chapter in).

3. I've already noted how children are included for significant portions of the "main" worship gathering. I'm also VERY impressed at how this church handles the weekly "Prayers of the people." I've seen churches that allow time for people to share their concerns before, but never so many people in the congregation that actually take the leaders up on the offer. This is a significant time for everyone to be made aware of the various needs of everyone else (of all ages) within our family. During the summer, the church also does regular "sack lunch" gatherings after the scheduled worship gathering.

4. I'll defer on this on for now, except to repeat what was said in the main post that I think Carol address the needs of the elderly and the need for inter-generational concerns (at least, in those first few chapters!) more than she may have realized when setting out to write the book.

5. See #3. In addition, there is a group of Small Groups that meet regularly, where people are given a chance to sign up at a given point, and commit for a period of one year. They meet generally in peoples homes to discuss Bible study or potential mission projects. Our church building is also very close to Pasadena City College and to Cal-Tech, and our interns (in particular) make regular efforts to reach out to those communities, although it is recognized that our small church (which relies so heavily on volunteer help for pretty much everything it does) hasn't reached out to those communities as much as we would like.

Elaine said...

Ok, I just left a long comment -- and it isn't here.

Norman, Oklahoma

Quotidian Grace said...

Good questions, Elaine, but I'd like to make a couple of more general comments about the book.

The author does a good job discussing the need to provide family-friendly programs, such as child care for activities other than worship, in order to get young families in the door and keep them active in the congregation. My own church does an excellent job with this.

Community is rightly noted as something that young adults (and all of us) are looking for in a church.

However unless the church offers something more compelling than the amenities at the local Y or neighborhood rec center, spiffing up the nursery isn't going to be enough.

One problem that I had with the book is that it seems a bit parochial--focused on young professional adults living in the urban centers of the East and West Coast. I don't think that translates to all areas of the country.

One of the successful things a number of our churches are doing to serve young adults is sponsoring programs to help them eliminate their debts, like Dave Ramsey's.

Carol Howard Merritt said...

B-W, It's great to read what your church is doing. I've always wanted our congregation to do Godly Play. How did you get someone to commit to it when it's during worship? Do you rotate leadership?

Did I write more about older generations than I intended? Maybe. My emphasis on it was to counter-act the idea that Gen Xers only want Gen X churches. It's the case sometimes, but it wasn't what I was experiencing in our ministry.

Quotidian Grace, Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Actually, most of my experience when I wrote the book was in Texas, Louisiana, and a small town in Rhode Island. I had just moved to D.C.

We could never offer "compelling," except that I worked really, really hard on worship. Other than that, with our budget, we couldn't compete with the Y.

What we could offer was care (which was the point of the nursery stuff... you know... when we look at many Presbyterian nurseries, it looks like they just don't care) and community. The basics.

Now that I'm in an urban area, I find I REALLY can't compete with the compelling programs in D.C. So, I'm doing the same things... emailing when people are gone, preaching as well as I can, and making sure they connect on pretty basic levels.

But... we all have different resources. I just wanted to make sure that small, rural, traditional, or whatever churches were good enough to reach out to young adults. Because I rarely heard that message in my research.

B-W said...

I've always wanted our congregation to do Godly Play. How did you get someone to commit to it when it's during worship? Do you rotate leadership?

We do indeed rotate. On average, each leader does maybe once a month, or maybe averaging three per two months.

As to how our Christian Ed Director got us all to commit... well, I'm still trying to figure that out just for myself. The fact that we love doing it certainly helps, but it is a bit of a pain to miss "regular" worship during that time (although we're pretty careful to consider the Godly Play time "worship" as well, of course).