Saturday, February 15, 2014

Strategic Planning to Orchestrate Spontaneous Organic Growth Spurts

You have heard it said: "What the Church really needs is organic growth. And young people! More young people would be great." But truly I say to you: Organic growth can't happen when the Church's  standard operating procedure is strategizing and discussing what to expect on the upcoming Meeting for Strategy and Discussion.

It's true. I don't mean to climb up on a soapbox (though I will), but I've heard nearly my entire life that I'm the next generation church-goer and that "one day, all this will be yours," which comes across in a very Mufasa-prophesying-to-Simba sort of way. Problem is, I don't want all of it to be mine.

When one clergy person or another says we need more organic growth and young people. Tom! invite your friends to our Celebration of the Most Venerable St. Swithin's Earlobe Relic and Installation liturgy, I tend to nod, say sure and make a mental note not to breathe a word to my non-churchy friends. Reason being that the only thing organic about that liturgy is that St. Swithin's earlobe was supposed to decompose ages ago (but somehow, it's still here... it must be DIVINE INTERVENTION).

There have also been meetings I've attended (read: coerced with promises of food; disappointed with cheese and crackers) where church folk have said they can't understand why the parish isn't growing, despite the advertising (which is published in the daily paper) and the fliers (which were printed in black and white, dropped off at two local coffee shops, and intended for the community board hung by the bathroom) and the announcements (which were emailed... to everyone on the parish mailing list).

Why?!? Oh why, oh why can't we seem to grow?!?!?!?

ANSWER: because you never asked the young people what they are interested in doing (and your parish talent survey doesn't cut it).

So, needless to say, I've found myself at a bit of a deficit when it comes to faith-based service. And that was why my friend Sheila and I decided to coordinate a couple of outings and invite our friends.

From left to right: Craig, my brother Willie, Michelle, Jonathan, me, my wife Amanda, Gifty, and Sheila
For the first outing, we went to Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) in Coon Rapids (the second outing is coming up in March and we're going to serve with Loaves & Fishes). To be honest, I had no idea what kind of turnout we would have; this was kind of an experiment. Sheila had never been to FMSC, I had; She knew it was a good organization, I've treasured my time there. It seemed like a good option.

Despite the "experimental" status, we ended up with our group of eight. And we had a great time! And it was moving...

FMSC makes a habit of telling their volunteers where the food that they are packing will be going. That particular night, it would be going to feed children in Zimbabwe. And that, it seemed, was serendipitous, since Craig  had grown up there and he was able to tell us about how desperately the kids needed the food that would be sent. After we were done packing, we had the opportunity to pray over the food, so Craig took the opportunity to ask God to deliver the food safely so that it could nourish the children. He also reminded us to always remember those that go hungry. It was moving and sobering all at once.

Once we were done packing and praying, we went to go get a bite to eat ourselves. Craig told us more about Zimbabwe and how he had applied to colleges using a dial up modem. Which sent us all into nostalgia, thinking about how we had encountered the internet on AOL and the god-awful sound of that login connection (which I think of with chagrin, since I'm now writing at my dining room table with a wireless laptop faster than anything I thought was possible when AOL started). We talked about the TV shows we watched when we were kids and we talked about the Winter Olympics. Sheila's cousin Gifte told us about the first time she encountered snow (it was January, she had just stepped off the plane in Minneapolis and she realized that she had absolutely no clothes fit for a Minnesota winter). We talked about sledding and my brother said he had gone out earlier this winter and that he had come back bruised and sore after only an hour. We groaned with sarcasm and said We're getting too old for this crap!

All the while, we basked in conversation and companionship, knowing that this is how we build community; stepping out in faith and seeing the family resemblance of the Other. Community just comes as a natural consequence.

So, you have heard it said by church folk: "We need young people! We need organic growth!" But truly I say to you: give young people a garden spade and they will plant a forest.