We have a tendency to brand the environment we live in as 'secular,' 'humanistic' and 'materialistic' or a combination of all three. Well, welcome to the 21st century my friend. It's a lot more complex than that, and yet it's a lot simpler too.
Fifteen years ago a group of us in YWAM decided to focus our Discipleship Training Schools to themed schools, based on what we termed new urban tribes. We began to run Snowboarder DTSs, Backpacker DTSs, Surfer DTSs, and so on. They were an immediate success in terms of recruitment and (hopefully) effect. But that was last century.
Flux Trends, a South African research company, in an attempt to profile developing cluster groups within SA, has recently come up with 12 clusters or what they call "New Urban Tribes of South Africa." What struck me about their results is that most of those 'tribes' are also found in New Zealand. So, although society is becoming more complex with a plethora of people groups that cluster around anything you can think of, those groups are increasingly pan-global (Did I just make up a word?). Have a look at just three of the 12 that Flux Trends identified. (The whole list can be found here.)
The Bieber Brats
Who are they? The Bieber Brats are the sussed, spoilt 9 to 12-year-old children – the true digital natives of our time. They live in the information age of instant gratification and media bombardment.
Why are they important? The Bieber Brats are South Africa’s first truly cosmopolitan generation. Also known as the 'born frees,' they have the first real level playing field. Mature beyond their years, they have quickly grown into mini-adults because they have travelled and have access to global and grown-up ideas at their fingertips.
The most surprising findings? The Bieber Brats have never known life without the internet and cellphones. As a result, they may become victims or perpetrators of cyber bullying. According to i-SAFE Foundation statistics, 10% to 20% of teenagers have experienced some form of cyber bullying.
The Faith-Based Youth
Who are they? Otherwise known as 'the believers,' this tribe is part of a growing number that has turned to faith to find fulfilment. As a result, faith-based young people have turned away from traditional, hierarchical religious institutions in favour of emergent 'missional churches,' which are more interested in making a lasting difference through missionary actions.
Why are they so important? Because this tribe prefers to live out their faith through missionary work programmes rather than preaching, they have a deep commitment to social justice and are known to engage in discussion to make sense of global issues – such as South Africa’s wealth gap and the ethics of consumerism – from a moral and/or Biblical worldview.
The most surprising findings? They find the crass commercialisation of their faith offensive and are particularly disparaging of the commercial “Jesus culture”. They are aspiring “philanthropic entrepreneurs” with a desire to create strong Christian business and networking opportunities.
Who are they? Techno-Hippies are tech-savvy geeks with hipster tastes and hippie ideas about saving the planet by going green and being sustainably self-sufficient. While passionate about changing the world on an abstract level, unlike the Faith-Based Youth, they prefer passive activism and have been given the nickname 'slacktivists' (slacker + activist).
Why are they so important? Techno-Hippies have a real desire to change the world. They are constantly looking for a fashionable cause they can get behind and 'wear' like a badge or brand identity, which poses the question: can one create real social change without hitting the street and protesting? The answer, based on the success of the Kony 2012 viral video, is a resounding yes.
The most surprising findings? Their pursuit of internet entrepreneurship and the dream of living the self-sufficient lifestyle of the modern 'new rich': people who are considered wealthy not because of their possessions or bank balances, but because they have freedom of time and location.
Globalisation helps us 'missionaries' reach the world for Jesus. Chances are the 'new tribes' that we now belong to are international in scope, giving us relevancy not only in our tribal cluster in New Zealand but also in those regions of the world where Jesus is least known. Granted, many of the unreached ethnic groups are still hidden behind 19th century technology and transportation, but they are rapidly emerging into the 21st century and therefore within reach of any one of us.
After 30 years working with Youth With A Mission I'm delighted to now be working with 'boomer bikers.' I look like them, I talk like them, I have the same tastes as they do because I AM one of them! This makes it so much easier to do mission among them, not just here in Marlborough, but, hopefully in the future, in the uttermost parts of the earth.
What 'tribes' do you belong to? Think about it - you belong to several 'New Tribal Clusters' that go beyond your ethnicity and socio-economic status. Think about your work, your hobbies, your sport, your interests, your skills, your passions.
Although the 'selfie' culture, the growing trend of independence, is on the rise among millennials, consider breaking out and joining a group, a club, a fraternity, a society, a union, a circle of like-minded, non-religious people for the sake of the Gospel?
Chris Donaldson is an Anglican Vicar serving in the Marlborough Sounds (www.soundsanglican.co.nz). For 30 years he worked with YWAM in Venezuela, Turkey and Oxford, New Zealand. The 'tribe' which gives him most joy and most opportunities to share the love of Christ is as Welfare Officer for the Marlborough chapter of the Ulysses motorcycle club.