Strategy? What is and can be a useful strategy for church growth? I was asked this question this morning by a colleague who wanted to know, “what’s your secret for increased attendance and giving?” First I should say I have a habit of this happening in my honeymoon year, when I first come to a church. Usually that spike happens then, then things stay the same for 4 or 5 years and then there is a slight decrease. That has been the pattern in my ministry.
Another colleague told me I practice a highly “relational” style of ministry, meaning she thought I have no strategy but strong people skills and the ability to network. I don’t think that is true, when I think of colleagues who practice ministry in that fashion they are highly motivated by personal relationships, they stay in touch with parishioners, they value the approval and affirmation of their church, it is truly “all about relationships”. I don’t think the record will show that is me. It is what people often think is me but it isn’t.
I believe Jesus when he tells us that experiencing God’s touch comes when we love our neighbour as we love ourselves. I also believe the first Christian community, chronicled in the Book of Acts, demonstrates that relationship building is essential to transformation. I thrive on getting to know people, getting out and visiting, listening to the joys and passions of people and then thinking and praying on how this can organically come together in worship, programming and outreach.
I recognize this is a highly Minister focused strategy and not everyone would approve or think it sustainable. I have rightly been criticized for a model that usually does not last after I leave. But I truly believe it is an organic model that requires the gifts of an entire community of believers. My model actually includes very little of specific actions taken by me. I include a lot of voices in worship, the programs and projects are usually lay driven, and my stories come from the church people and the community around the church. I am passionate about connecting church and community and again the persons who make these connections real are not me. So I am very sad and a little surprised when this model seems to ground to a halt when I leave.
If I put my strategy in words it would be this, spiritual transformation occurs when people engage each other, when people engage nature, when people engage the sacred stories of the Bible, when people engage the community. I see my role as a connector, someone who connects people to each other, to larger stories, and who shares the personal and communal stories I hear with others, thus lifting up the importance of everyone who gathers to form community. It’s a simple strategy and it puts pressure on me to connect with everyone, remember everyone and find creative ways to weave everyone into one experience or several experiences. But it works. It’s not perfect, it seems to be grow and find deepest expression early one. I wish it would grow and grow. But over time it is a pattern, a style and a vision that sunk deep into my bones. What helps me sleep at night is knowing these experiences have come to life and those who have been with me have touched something deep in the other and in themselves.
It’s my strategy.