Authentic Growth: Of Church money, numbers, and groups-beyond plug & play

Posted: May 21, 2018 by Ty in Spirituality
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The greatest fallacy of community building is that there is a magic formula one can pluck from one setting and insert into theirs and “voila” numeric and monetary growth happens. The “Eureka” moment. Formulas can be positive or negative for the human condition. Focus on a shining light, or the darkest night. Yet, what is universal is that the community wants something simple to grow numbers without changing their normal operating procedure.

I know this. I have experienced this. For it is the uphill climb that happens when building communities of authentic welcome, and the burning shit storm that rains down on the change agent, even going as far as character assassination. Yet the truth remains the same. A community needs to understand first who they authentically are. What follows is a simple treatise on growing a religious community, and communicating to new, old and inquiring spirits as to how things work and what is available. Most churches in Canada are small to medium sized (less than 200 active members) which leads to falling into the non-communication phase of operations. That is, they are not used to new members, voices, inquiries and assume everyone knows everything already. This needs to be the first step of change. Also, it does not speak into the pilgrimage of spirituality, for what may at one point not spoken to one’s journey may now, and the information is lost in the non-communication abyss.

So yes, this is a religious treatise, but can be adapted to any organization that uses small groups/committees/insert other name for same group here.

Preliminary:

  • Clearly outline governance. Break it down simply, so folks understand who to take ideas to.
  • How does one create a new group? This includes not only the idea, but what it takes to be lead on any new group ideas (i.e. teaching, outreach, community building).
  • What existing groups already exist? Are they Open? Closed? Membership decided on a demographic? This needs to be a simple hard copy brochure, and a tab on the webpage. Outline contact information, and what the group is about.
  • Since worship or web page can be first point of contact for new folks, and existing folks, it does not hurt to keep a current info section. This should include upcoming Sunday (monthly schedule if possible) on the speakers, short 2-3-line bio on the speaker (yes this may seem monotonous to some when it is the cleric speaking, but much can be shared in 2-3 lines so even new things can be learned), and if topic not available, the text that will be used.
  • Social Media presence: If you have a web page, twitter, YouTube, WordPress, blog site, Facebook, etc. ensure they are being used and update regularly as any and or all of these can become what someone new or old views your organization as being.
  • If the building is the hub of activity, ensure you have properly labelled meeting rooms, and directional signs up pointing which way is which (washrooms also visibly signed and directed) and use of whiteboard schedule so new folks know where they are going. If you are without a building, or use folks’ homes to meet in, ensure that information is communicated clearly and the leader is able to share the directions to the space either publicly or when messaged.
  • Any changes need to be clearly and transparently communicated, this also includes why the change was made, and who was there when change was decided (we all understand we miss a meeting thing can change).

That is the preliminary. Moving forward how do things happen?

Figure out types of groups happening and yes this includes one off events.

Outreach I view as volunteer groups. This is things such as volunteering as a group for this project (i.e. volunteering at a local homeless shelter, seniors’ manor, school, making sandwiches, community meal, etc.) something that anyone of any age can be involved in, but are outside the local church community or things within the church that are for the broader community (i.e. clothing giveaways, church garage sales, community cupboards, community gardens).

Service is also volunteer groups, one off, or ongoing, but it is basic running of the building or background services. This can be someone willing to take on IT trouble shooting, running the social media or webpage, hospitality for worship or other church functions; grounds keeping, maintenance, does the church have a library? Keeping that up; cleaning, any other project within the grounds that needs folks and their time.

Social is well social events. Games nights, outings, recreation leagues sports teams; BBQ’s, movie nights, books clubs, craft clubs, etc… a social event that may or may not have a spiritual component but is about getting people together to get to know one another. Please note these can and do intersect with the next one, so there may be a layer of leadership required dependent on what your church deems necessary.

Educational/Formational featured speakers, conferences, book groups, spiritual studies, movie nights, what is colloquially known as Sunday School, Church Camps, Vacation Bible School, Youth (or other age specific groups), etc. What are the qualifications to form and lead? What is the purpose? Who is welcome? Also this looks to specific sacramental teaching and membership groups.

Worship – these are the ones that bring us the smallest portion of the church week, but the one the most time can be spent on. Who shares the pulpit? How is music groups designed/chosen? How do we advertise? How are all generations connected with? What are key points that need to be communicated/explained if there is someone new attending even if they have a history in church but not our church? What are terms we use others may not?

Political– This is whatever leadership group heads up your church body (i.e. synod, board, committee, etc).

Beyond the headings?

This gives a group of headings to break up information in for people to understand. It also allows for ease of communication (i.e. we have a choir new member accepted from Sept-November or Raj’s Bible Study always open coffee is on Thursdays).

Also, breaking down who can lead which type of group. What are qualifications? Membership? Baptism? Sacraments? Who can be involved in worship? Who can spearhead a social gathering? Who can take lead in an educational/formational group? Who is allowed to have a seat in the political spectrum? Outreach and service? These are questions for your community to address, answer and advertise transparently. The other piece that will need to be addressed is what happens when someone bucks the system, what honestly is the community willing to do about it?

Beyond all this though the deepest question to be answered when entering a process of growth is answering authentically: Which type of growth? Spiritual? Numeric? Monetary? Most will say all, but being authentic states knowing what your community honestly values and it may surprise them.

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