Tribes Thoughts | Assimilation is Connectivity

May 25, 2009 — 14 Comments

In Tribes, Seth Godin talks about Senator Bill Bradley’s elements of movement:

  1. A narrative that tells the story of who the tribe is and the alternate future they are building
  2. Connection between the movement leader and the tribe
  3. Something to do, or actionable items

In my context, number two is the hardest to accomplish, and I’m thinking through how my ministry and our church can do a better job of connecting leaders and the tribe.  Assimilation ministry is essentially fostering the second point, connecting individuals to the leader.

Adapting the model for church, here’s what I come up with:

  1. Narrative and alternate future = preaching and visionary leadership
  2. Connection between leader and tribe = assimilation and “community”
  3. Actionable items = mobilization

Preaching and visionary leadership can engender actionable items, but sustainability in mission comes from the second point.

I realize this is pretty simple, but it seems to make sense to me…any challenges/thoughts?

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

14 responses to Tribes Thoughts | Assimilation is Connectivity

  1. Can you flesh out more what it means to have a connection between the movement leader and the tribe? And also assimilation and community? Is it more important for the tribe need to feel connected to the leader or just connected in general to those within the part of the movement (community) and the goal/mission of the movement (making disciples and glory of Jesus)?

  2. correction: Is it more important for the tribe to feel connected to the leader or just connected to others who are also apart of the movement (community) and the goal/mission of the movement (making disciples and the glory of Jesus)?

  3. No that makes sense and is a good point. To be honest, I instantly shrink back at so much emphasis put on a head leader. How does one keep people from feeling more allegiance and passion for the leader than to Jesus himself? I do not think this reaction is entirely valid and is in need of biblical reworking but it is just my reaction to structured human leadership in the church.

  4. I think point #2 demands a high value be placed on initiating and maintaining relationships. I think it’s the most difficult thing about the environment we find ourselves in here in Austin.

    Even the iteration away of connecting to a leader who is connected to the ultimate leader does not convey or contain the same connection as the ultimate leader taking time to interact and answer the necessary questions.

    The next question is how can a ultimate leader sustain that many relationships? Should he instead be an ultimate leader that leads 5-7 visionaries who become in the minds of those connected their new ultimate leader? Did that make any logical sense?

  5. Great conversation here! On the point of connecting to the leader (prime) or one of the leaders (sub), I think the other thing that helps that whole process is a clear vision. What I mean is this. If I hear my pastor say something over and over I know it is his vision. If I hear my Life Group leader say that same thing over and over then I know he shares my pastor’s vision (I see they are connected). If I then hear myself saying the same thing over and over and actually living it out then I begin to feel connected to both leaders. If I hear the people I do church with repeating the same thing and living it out beside me then I truly feel connected to a community.

    I don’t think connection has to come in the form of direct conversation or even physical proximity these days… that is where the beauty of the online media comes to play. If I have a Vision connection with someone and then I read their blog or some random twitter comment, then it actually “feels” like a relationship exists. In a spiritual sense it DOES.

    I also think that the number of relationships a senior pastor (head leader) can handle is very much dependant upon his personality and leadership style. I am not sure there is a perfect number of relationships that every pastor needs to have… I feel quite sure it will vary depending upon the person.

  6. Good post and discussion. A few thoughts…
    – Narrative starts with preaching, but if it’s heard well, should result in stories from the tribe as they add to that narrative.
    – Connection between people and leader isn’t as important as connection among people, and connection to the shared vision
    – Two models for actionable items: one (for a centralized tribe) is to have a structure that supports action consistent with vision; another is a more decentralized approach where individuals come up with their own actions. The former is a powerful organization, the latter is a movement.
    – Great point by Jeff in that when your ministry leaders and group leaders, and eventually your group members, are talking about the same vision – wow that’s powerful and a sign that the vision is both clear and compelling.
    – Today, might connectivity precede assimilation? This is my first time ever seeing this blog, much less commenting on it. Why and how? Todd and I (who don’t know each other) both like the leadnet show, from that I follow him on twitter, and I saw his tweet on this post with a message that sounded interesting. Plus he mentioned Tribes which is a book I found interesting but very hard to apply, especially within ministry. Anyway, I think it used to be that assimilation led to connectivity, now community and shared vision leads to assimilation, which leads to greater community…

  7. Hmm, I wonder what the distinction between connectivity and assimilation would be. I suppose a mere “connection” like the one we have made here can often be quickly formed and quickly broken. (I got here through twitter as well through a looooooong path of connections that led me to the Austin Stone staff page from a friend who mentioned “the college guy” there :)

    I would guess that when we say “assimilated” we are referring to a deeper connection that involves shared vision/mission. If that is the case, then yes, I think we are in a day where connectivity will precede assimilation. I am not sure it has ever happened differently to be honest, which may shed some light on why the previous decades have seen such a decline in effective mission.

  8. From what I can remember it started sometime last Fall. I got a notice from a friend that their church hit #2 on the “Fastest Growing Churches” list by Outreach, and as I was perusing the list I thought I would check for churches from my hometown (Austin). Sure enough I saw a couple… Austin Stone being one of them. A short time later I was on the website and reading through some of the vision for changing communities, and it happened to be some of the exact same things that God was putting on our heart for our community (the school connection with Reagan in particular). The fact that I grew up 5 blocks from Reagan High was a strange little connection too. I don’t hear of many churches interested in ministering to my old neighborhood heh.

    I have been gone from Austin for about 10 years, so I had never heard of the church. I started mentioning it to some friends, and lo and behold some of them were a few steps ahead of me (already attending). One of those friends was the daughter of a man I worked with over at Great Hills Baptist (in the NW part of town) and she mentioned your name as someone I should meet when we get back to Austin (should be July of this year). That was before I was on twitter… I actually found your particular sight after seeing your pastor on Leadnet and wondering if any of you guys were on twitter… which you are.

    A quick trip to your “staff” page, and there we have it!

  9. Todd Engstrom May 25, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    That is a complicated question, and I’m not sure it is a “more/less important” dichotomy. I think connection to a leader through other leaders is equally as valid, but often when your tribe is driven primarily by a sole catalyst, you need to help people connect the dots of the how they ARE connected to that person and vision through the organizational structure. I do also think there is great value, to the extent possible, of equipping a movement leader with a variety of tools to communicate and interact.in direct fashion, rather than solely through a hierarchical structure.

    I think to answer your question a little more specifically, community is the vehicle that the organization is moving in, and the means to connect points visionary leadership (making disciples and the glory of Jesus) and mobilization into a particular context together (making disciples for the glory of Jesus through the particular community). This pathway requires secondary and tertiary leadership structures which apply vision in a specific context, which is generally connected to the overall leadership of the movement.

    Am I making sense?

  10. Todd Engstrom May 26, 2009 at 11:19 am

    You are right on with leader maintaining relational connection, and Tribes offers a good insight on how tools like social media and other digital technology to facilitate that connection. They are a good secondary means to provide connection and create a direct link that exists outside of organizational structure.

    I think that’s the value of using things like blogs, twitter, facebook, etc. in larger ministries.

    I also think there is a natural progression of leaders growing and multiplying from the organization, which is church planting and cause entrepreneurship. As the “proximate cause” becomes a viable “primary cause”, it’s natural for the organization to multiply. That’s church planting, and it’s a great thing!

  11. Todd Engstrom May 26, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation, and I agree with what you are saying. The basic point of Tribes is that leaders can and should leverage other media to connect, and in fact they are a very powerful for communicating the vision a leader has.

    The one piece I would add to this conversation is the value of a plurality of leadership, and not locking into a point-leadership model (this is where Godin fails in his thinking…). It’s not just about a connection to a lead communicator/visionary (although this is helpful), but also a means for demonstrating and communicating the other leaders in the movement and their influence/ideas. This helps leverage the platform of the most visible leader to the less-visible leaders and their necessity for the success of the movement.

  12. Todd Engstrom May 27, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Larry,
    Thanks so much for your thoughts, and stopping by here. I would very much agree with points one and two, with the addition that connection to the leader is important because it connects to the vision and provides a consistent leadership and voice for direction.

    Your actionable items point is well made, but I would consider it to be more of an organic continuum (that sounds ridiculous, but its the best I could come up with) rather than a simple two state solution. A movement consists of powerful organizations, and church planting ought to be the result of this concept applied to church.

    Lastly, I think you a correct in that connectivity precedes assimilation. It is the initial point in the process, I think, and provides a starting point on the pathway to assimilation into an organization (in my case the church). What used to be a process solely driven by face to face relationships now has an entirely different dimension with the advent of the internet and social media. I would definitely agree that the process is cyclical, however, just as relationships foster new relationships and the need/desire for different connectivity.

    I’d love to talk/hear more about your thoughts on this book…I’ll be posting a few more items on it.

  13. Todd Engstrom May 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    See my previous post…

    I’d be interested to hear that looooong pathway…I’m always curious!

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