Institutions, Movements, Congregations and Tribes


Lately I’ve been reading and thinking about the difference between movements and institutions,  congregations and tribes.

Do you know what you’re leading?
And do you know what you want to lead?

This reflection has been fueled by re-reading Seth Godin’s fabulous book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us and Carol Howard Merritt’s Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation.

If you haven’t read any of Seth’s books, watch the video below.  Actually, watch it no matter what. It is relevant.

In it Seth talks about the need for people like you and me to lead tribes of people and to create movements, not institutions. The presentation is for people who have taken on the task of changing everything – You’re workin’ on that, right

With this on the brain, this morning I found a number of relevant blog posts on my digital doorstep.

  1. Over on his Planting God Communities blog, Ron Robinson brings our attention to a 2008  presentation on church growth by Bill Easum. This presentation “Transformation and  Reproduction Across Denominational Lines”(Doc) is a summary of what is and is not working based on Easum’s consulting work. You may download the 156 page power point presentation here. In his report Easum states that “For denominations to survive, a ‘movement DNA’ must begin to replace their institutional DNA.”
  2. Rev. Thom Belote is in the process of blogging about a UUA Growth Consultation held May 5 to May 7.  According to Thom this consultation brought together 17 individuals and who were charged with developing a growth plan for the Unitarian Universalist Association. An index for posts related to the May 2010 growth consultation may be found here including a list of participants. So far he has posted the pre-work assigned to participants, a list of What will cause Unitarian Universalism to NOT grow in next 5 years and a Reflection on the extent to which external factors impact growth. Special thanks to Thom for his effort to document this consultation.  I’m looking forward to the rest of this posts.

Easum says we need to be replacing our institutional DNA with movement DNA.  Do you agree with that?

I know more and more UUs are talking about “our movement” but it takes more than using the word movement to have one.  Again, I look forward to seeing what comes out of this consultation.

When I think about movements versus institutions I continually come back to the results of the 2000 US Census.  Something like 600,000 people self identified as UU versus the 165,000 or so adult members we have in UUA member congregations (2009 stats).

That’s 165K congregationally based UUs  versus  435K free range UUs.   Yes, I know some of you say that you can’t be UU without participating in a congregation.  Me? I’m not in that camp.

I know many people who self identify as Buddhist and work to better themselves and the world through a Buddhist spiritual pratice.  Yes, its a lot easier with a sangha, a spiritual community,  but can you say they aren’t really Buddhists?  Maybe they aren’t the “best Buddhist” in the world, but I don’t think you can or should take their identity away.

In Seth’s presentation (video above) he emphasizes that those who would change the world are tasked with “leading and connecting people and ideas.”

Do you like that?  I do.  Leadership, connection and a powerful galvanizing idea…

Ever since I read Seth’s book Unleashing the Ideavirus I’ve thought about how to unleash the “idea of Unitarian Universalism” and share it with the world.

Here’s a challenge for you.  See if you can imagine a way to launch and lead a movement for all those free range UUs.  Maybe there is one that is large and compelling enough to work for all of us congregationally based UUs too…

In his report Easum tells church leaders they need to be “committed to a radical movement rather than entitled members protecting our institutions.”

What are you committed to?

Me?  I’m off to get a coffee refill and imagine what a radical counter-cultural and world changing movement powered by both congregationally based and free-range tribal UUs might look like.

If you have visions and ideas please feel free to be in touch.

One thought on “Institutions, Movements, Congregations and Tribes”

  1. Thanks Peter; we need “missionary tribes” (to use a phrase lol that captures the spirit of the new ecclesiology and missiology and turns the old colonialism upside down). it is really not that hard; it just (!) takes letting go of so much of the past which we like, and so much of the future ends we seek. How is that for a Christian like me to see how Buddhist or generally mystic approaches are vital to anything we do to become more missional and movement minded.

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