When I am behind a shopping cart, I need a slow-moving vehicle sign. Grocery shopping takes me forever. I check the labels. I check the ingredients. I look at the pictures designed to make me want the product. I definitely check that little label that lets me know the price. As we look further at describing our churches as people rather than a place, we will use subculture theory to help us refine what healthy church membership might include. To get us started, we will think through the use of labels.
First, subcultures are self-ascribed or their label is placed by people from outside the group. This seems like a fit—after all, the label of Christian was originally ascribed by people outside the movement trying to identify the Christ followers within the “new” faith.
If we play this out a bit, that means that our church, the people who are a part of our covenant community, live differently. People know our church family because there is something noticeable about us. A question here: do I live with covenant faithfulness with my church family in a way that makes my label apparent?
This is not for show and tell—the question simply forces us to assess how authentic we are about our Kingdom Family. If our only way of describing our engagement with the church is that it is the place we attend worship services (when we are able to attend) we are not living as part of a functional family. We are Kingdom Family in name only.
Centrality and Saliency
A second delineation of interest is that a subculture is one of many identifications. I am a part of civic organizations, I am a sports fan, I am a runner (and the list goes on). Most of our other identities are not bad things, but which identity is primary matters. Subculture theory takes this hierarchy of identities into account with assessment of centrality and saliency. Centrality refers to the level of commitment that an individual has to a given subculture. Saliency refers to the frequency that the subculture is referenced. Simply put, centrality is how important our church affiliation is to our overall identity, and saliency is how much we talk about it.
Question to ask here is: what is my first impression of the centrality and saliency of identity with my church family? Is this identity an important part of how I define myself (centrality), or do I only bring up church affiliation among my churchy friends (saliency)?
A third delineation to note is that a subculture can be “expected to develop in any category of the population of a society when its members interact with each other more than they interact with persons in other categories.” This provides the framework of a sense of group consciousness that is built through social interactions and networks. Once again, this is another quintessential element of our churches. We live on mission together—beyond the weekly worship service, and in a way that keeps us engaged as we join God in His work.
Our identity is strengthened when there is reinforcement through overlapping relationships. Question to ask here is: how thick are the overlapping relationships in my church to shape a deeply embedded Kingdom Family? This is not an invitation to be navel gazers and only interested in ourselves—the key is that we do more than gather as a group—we scatter as a group on mission into our community as well.
Subculture theory invites us to look at our labels, the centrality and saliency of our church affiliation, as well as our group consciousness with our church to help assess whether or not we are for real about my church family. If labels are limited, centrality and saliency comes from competing identities, or there is a lack of group consciousness—maybe I should rethink how devoted I truly am to the idea of Kingdom Family.
We are in a season where many are quietly retreat from engaged church participation. Rather than pointing our finger at “the other” for not upholding their responsibilities, this is a critical time to assess our own engagement. Let’s intentionally grow as Kingdom Family rather than only affinity for a geographic place.
*Once again, photos for both blog articles in this series are courtesy of Sam Greene.
 Brewer, Marilynn B. and Wendi Gardner. 1996. “Who is this ‘We’? Levels of Collective Identity and Self Representations.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71 (1): 83-93. 83.
Gelder 2005, 1.
 This identification can come because the group is seen as non-normative or as a marginalized group.Williams, J. Patrick. 2011. Subculture Theory: Traditions and Concepts. Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Gelder 2005, 1.
 Fine and Kleinman 1979, 13.
 Rose, Arnold M. 1962. “The Subculture of the Aging: A Topic for Sociological Research.” The Gerontologist 2 (3): 123-127. 123.
 Rose 1962, 126. Fine and Kleinman 1979, 18.