Do you want to piss-off a great number of Progressive Christian? All you have to do is mention Growth, works every time. How do I know this? Being and active voice in the progressive conversation I get to see it firsthand. Keep in mind, I am not saying every progressive gets uptight talking about growth, but many do. Whenever I speak to groups (of any size) of progressive followers, I am amazed at the pushback I get when I start talking about growing their community of faith. When I ask why, I get some amazing answers:
We like a small church, it’s like a family
We focus on individual growth and not corporate growth
Growth sounds too much like Evangelism, and that’s pushing our faith on others
When we talk growth, it is always about numbers and not people
Big churches are just to commercial and institutional
As I write this I can already hear many of my progressive friends getting ready for the pushback. I get that, I get understand the comments I have received in the past but please understand I am going to call bullshit. Why? Because as a progressive follower of the teachings of Christ, I think we have an amazing understanding of how the Divine works in our lives and in the lives of others, and to be honest with you I want to share that with as many people as possible. We share a story without eternal punishment and one of eternal love. We hold in our hearts to be a people of social justice, or equality, of grace, of understanding, of lifting-up, of moving forward and we should want others to hear that message. We all get that, but we don’t share. For many, sharing their faith, or community of faith, seems somehow wrong, but it’s not. To share, we need to open our hearts and minds to the possibilities; we need to believe in ourselves and what we have to offer through the Divine. We live in a world where people are hurting, abused and tossed aside and to be honest with you I don’t believe that the Evangelical Church has any answers; I believe we can reach this generation with the love, grace and compassion of Christ. How? Let’s talk about that.
In order understand what drives this generation forward we need to be ready to ask some important questions, and be honest in our answers. What do we have to address to move this generation from standing outside our communities of faith, and entering? Is it our music? Yea, it could be – if it sucks. Is it the number of Sunday School classes we offer? Nope, that is not even on their radar. Is it the programs we offer? Programs are of no interest to this generation. Is it their desire to connect with others? Sure, as long as those connections are real and meaningful. Is it our institution, with all its dysfunction? Not even close; this generation could care less about the institution, and dysfunction drives them crazy. But, in all that there is one thing that drives them, and I bet you are wondering what that is; it’s discovery.
Opening to discovery brings a breath of fresh air into the life of the community, and if there is one thing a progressive community of faith can offer, its discovery. Discovering what it means to love, to love as Jesus loved, to love others so deeply that we care about every fiber of their being. Discovering how this love can change them and the world around them. Discovery is a faith in action, spirituality with meaning, doing things and not just talking about others doing them. It is not your music (unless your music completely sucks), it is not your programs, it is not the pastor (unless they’re a complete bore), it is not the number of Sunday School classes you offer. It is discovery.
To grasp this idea of discovery, we, the progressive conversation, need to embrace a few things:
It should go without saying, but our future is relatively uncertain. In that uncertainty there is a vast realm of excitement. Many people strive to control uncertainty, as if they can somehow control what they have never expected. Personally, I embrace uncertainty and let it be. Why? Because it is a reality of our lives, nothing is ever completely known; if there is one thing we can say with certainty is that in our lives there is uncertainty. It is something that simply is; we should all embrace it and not run and hide from it. I find that uncertainty can be a great motivator, and yes it can also be a great de-motivator. The key is to open our hearts towards motivation and let uncertainty drive us – take chances, dance on the edge, do the impossible, dream the vision, trust that the Divine is with us in uncertain times. Growth comes when we embrace uncertainty and not when we allow it to control our lives and decisions.
Let’s take a long look at how many progressive communities of faith move in the realm of creativity – kind of hard to do, because most communities living in the realm of the progressive movement are, well, boring. I have to be honest here, most of the communities of faith that I have visited over my ministry have one thing in common – they’re boring. To move past boring we have to admit that we are boring and strive to find ways to change. Sure, what we have seems to work great for those currently in our communities of faith, but our goal should be to bring people in to hear a message of inclusion. I find it weird that we speak of inclusion and at the same time there is no desire to change what is currently being done to include.
Over the past three years I have written two books centering on creativity, “Boneyard; Creatives Will Change the Way We Lead In the Church” and “The Church Creative: How To Be a Creative Gathering in the 21st Century.” Both books center on creativity and answer both the why and how creativity will change the way our communities of faith can move in the 21st century, and yes it can be uncomfortable. Many people say they are craving how to be creative, yet when I share with them the possibilities I have found that most have done very little reading on creativity, from any angle.
Excitement and creativity have an amazing relationship, they feed off each other (and together they can push aside boring). Over the history of the church, growth occurs when people are excited about what’s happening. Look back at all the “great awakenings,” they all have one thing in common excitement. People were excited about their faith, about the changes, about everything that was happening. They wanted to share with others, because they wanted others to feel that excitement. We need to be excited about our faith, our communities of faith, our way of understanding how the Divine works in our lives and how the Divine can work in the lives of others.
I believe the progressive conversation has a great deal to offer, and I am excited about what we have – we should all be excited. If you are not excited about your faith, your community of faith, what you are doing in the world around you – why would others care about what you have to share?
Embrace an Entrepreneurial Spirit:
Seminaries teach people to be managers – how to manage a church, how to manage people, how to manage the funds, how to manage programs, how to manage music, how to manage worship – they do not teach people to be entrepreneurs. I believe this is a complete failure of the seminary. Managers make great cogs in the wheelhouse of the institution, while entrepreneurs can cause all kinds of problems for the even flow of boring.
Managers answer to a Board of Directors, people who set the policies and expect the manager to carry it out and implement procedures without question or delay. Entrepreneurs work with a Creative Team, people who are willing to dream about possibilities and when the time comes, roll up their sleeves and jump into the fray. This manager/board dynamic will only change when the community of faith embrace uncertainty and encourage change.
Embrace Moving Forward:
This is the simplest idea to embrace, yet it is the hardest one to accomplish. Many of the progressive communities of faith I know have so many committees and levels of decision making that moving forward seems impossible.
The very first church I served out of seminary had a membership of 15 people, a board of 12 people and 9 subcommittees. When I was hired the board asked me to put together a list of things I thought they would need to change. At my very first meeting, I gave that list to the board. The chairmen of the board looked at me and said, “Great, we will break this list up so the individual subcommittees can look it over and make a decision on how to proceed.” My response was “No.” I told them that the list was not negotiable. Without fail, they gave me back the list and said, “Let’s move forward.” Over the first six months, we cut the board to 6 people, and renamed it “The Creative Team.” We restructured everything we did so we could move forward. Over the next few years, we grew from 15 people to well over 300 and dropped our average age from 78 to 33.
Next time you’re in your community of faith, take a look around and ask yourself one question, “Is what we are doing now working?” Be honest. Don’t try to answer it from your point of view, answer it from the point of view of those who came to visit but never returned. Next, start asking yourself, “What do we need to do to change?” Once you start answering that question, get ready to do something about it. If it means changing your music, change it – if it means changing your pastor, make the change – if it means evaluating your worship service, do so – whatever you think needs changing, start the process of change. Don’t fall back, move forward.