The Seven Faith Tribes, Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter

7tribesThis is an unusual book but I believe a very important one to read and was so convinced of this, our staff took several weeks and worked our way through it. It is written by George Barna, researcher and writer, who has authoredmany booksread and used by many church leaders. This book should be no exception and should be read and study carefully, intentionally, and with the prayer that God will enable us to work with what we learn. This book took over eight years of research with more than 30,000 people. From that research Barna and associates determined that among the 200 to 250 religious groups in America which underscores multi-diversity, they can be distilled down to seven faith tribes based on their commonality. As Barna says so clearly, these seven tribes are impacting not only religion, but economy, politics, and values.

We realizethe United States is not very united in practice at this time butrather exhibitingmuch discord among our multicultural context. Is there any waywe can emphasize now as was once more successful in the American experiment early on, things that could unite us as a nation? Can there really be unity among all the diversity that surrounds us?

Barna is correct in concluding that at the beginning of the third millennium the United States is on a downward cycle. There is no area that appears to be stable; the economy, politics, religion, global relationships, even natural disasters. At the same time he says, churches are struggling to be relevant, traditional morality is being challenged and generally dismissed. Even professing Christians are not demonstrating the very beliefs and values they claim in following Jesus thus “losing ground for the cause of Christ as well as the good of humanity.” This could have a self-destructive impact on America. Christians have not always been the salt and light influence on our culture and world and have actually contributed to some of the division we experience. Therefore Barna makes what I call a plea. “In other words, we need to stop competing, comparing, complaining, and condemning and we must start cooperating, communicating, collaborating, and contributing. It’s time to stop fighting and start loving. It’s time to stop taking and start giving This is a critical moment in American history. Everything is changing,” (page xiii).

The first thing done in this book is condense the multitude of religions into seven major tribes. This was done by attempting to identity the valuesthe seven tribes would probably have in common. Things like: represent truth well, cultivating civility, belonging to a caring community, investing in young people, being a good citizen and so the list of 20 shared values goes. We need to develop a community where shared values emerge and are intentionally practiced.

The seven tribes identified in this research include with their percentage: Casual Christians who are lax in beliefs and practices but identify themselves as Christians, 66%; Captive Christians who are more consistently practicing their Christian beliefs, 17%; Jews are 2%; Mormons, 2%; Pantheists including Eastern Religions, less than 1%; Muslims far less than 1%; and Skeptics, including agnostics and atheists, 11%.

Barna comments that what America is experiencing now, though often subtle, is an abuse of religion instead of allowing our religion to encourage us to live more in harmony with one another, even of a different tribe and one need not sacrifice his religion in order to do that. One of the main ways we can do that is to understand one another’s world views. He says that might help us not to gossip, attack, isolate, and wall ourselves off from one another as well as attempting to build bridges towards those of different tribes. While some say that political leaders are the key to leading this approach, religion should actually be the energizing force moving us to such cooperation. He says, “our elected officials are not likely to instigate the rescue; it must come from our faith tribes.” He even identifies seven components that would move us closer to that goal of a truly United States of America.

I agree that this is an opportunity for Christians and Christian leaders to step up and lead in this task. To do this, the church would need to intentionally demonstrate a unity within the church that does not compromise truth but speaks the truth in love and builds healthy relationships and then in that process train and equip its members to move out into the world with that same intention. Christians may even have the responsibility to step up to the plate and take the leadership to this end. I agree that we must pour our lives into the lives our young people to disciple them towards these goals. “The nation has a leadership vacuum waiting to be filled.” To begin to fill that vacuum, Christians need to demonstrate courage, compassion, commitment to the truth and to one another.

I encourage you to read this book but only if you are willing to wrestle with the opportunity to be part of the cure and not the sickness.

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Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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