Thursday, August 30, 2007

Organic Community

Next good book recommendation is Organic Community: creating a place where people naturally connect, by Joseph R. Myers. A good one about moving away from "master plans" toward "shaping environments where community emerges naturally." This is a good reminder for all of us who tend to try to "manage growth" and control our environments, thinking that if we just get the right programs, i.e. the right kind of small group ministry, and do the right kind of advertising, etc. we will grow.

One of the best chapters, applicable not only to local churches and organizations but also to denominations, is the one on growth and the difference between "large-lump vs. piecemeal growth." Our cultural seduction for large-lump, Myers says, often leaves groups bankrupt. "Our culture has taught us that growth is an expectation...Choosing a large-lump path toward growth over a piece-meal way forward provides outward evidence of growth sooner. The enormous house, the number of active small groups, the increased attendance in our church services--all demonstrate that growth has occurred. In truth, however, large-lump models rob us of what we are hoping to achieve. One reason this is true is because most--sometimes all--resources are marshalled to build the large-lump plan. Once the large-lump plan is in place, the resources are so depleted that the only possible way to maintain any growth at all is through incremental patterns. The patterns have little momentum, and often bankruptcy results.

In a piecemeal growth pattern, growth may not be evident until later in the process, but the growth is sustanable and leads to a healthy, generative whole. The piecemeal patterns are implemented fromt he outset, momentum builds, and sustainable growth results.

"Consider these questions before you launch your next initiative: How much of our future will this one thing control? Will this one thing that I'm planning deplete all or most of our resources? Will this one thing that I'm planning consume all or most of the community's life? if what I'm planning fails, will it devastate the whole? If what I'm planning succeeds, will it devastate the whole?

The overall idea is to move community activists, i.e. church leaders, toward becoming environmentalists instead of planners. One of the deadly questions that we often fall prey to is the "how" question: how can we do X? Myers shows how that question itself grows out of a scarcity model and propels us down the path of master plans. And how and what we "measure" as the bottom line often ends up controlling our mission. He writes: we measure that which we perceive to be important, that which we measure will become important and will guide our process, that which we do not measure will become less important. "We must understand what we are measuring. We are talking about measuring life--community, relationships, health. We are talking about measuring inanimate entities. Reducing living organisms to a census count demeans the way we were created...Story is the universal measurement of life. Story is the measure of community. Story emerges from life."

When was the last time we counted how many, and what kind of, stories were the most important to our communities? And helped people tell those stories (the real meaning of sermons)? And incorporated them into the Board meetings? Story and prayer are the bottom line.

He tells a good story about stories. How Cincinnati's Vineyard Community Church does its servant evangelism on Saturday mornings (what we call random acts of kindness days) and then comes back to share stories about what happened with one another. That is church. People are drawn toward and want to be a part of Story, and through it to the Great Story.

7 comments:

Stephen said...

Thanks for this, Ron. The British GA is having a whole day dedicated to 'growth' in March and this is exactly this kind of thing that I want to read up on before I go into those conversations. Any other recommendations will be much appreciated.
Stephen

Anna said...

Ron,

I really appreciate this post. I needed to hear a lot of that, it is always hard to remember that in church growth, like weight loss, slow and steady beats fast and easy, in the long run. I particularly appreciated your last paragraph. I am very into "story" as my dominant motif in thinking about church and religion right now.

Anna from Georgia

Ron said...

Stephen, check out from a business portal, but with obvious parallels to growing new kinds of churches for a new/ancient kind of world--"The Starfish and the Spider: the Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations" Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom

Also check out Dan Kimball's latest one, for general cultural analysis that seems apt for North america and the U.K.--They Like Jesus, but Not the Church. pretty sure that is the title. i will be blogging more on it soon.

Thanks Anna: In Shane Claiborne's book I am touting and using here in Turley, in the introduction or foreword I forget which, either his words or Jim Wallis', the point is made that it is now through story, personal experience, and shared hands-on service rather than ideas, doctrines, dogma, etc. that "the church" listens to and responds to "the world." It is all the old doing away with believing and then belonging, in favor of the new belonging and then believing. Today's folks will more often belong through story-linking, to use a phrase I picked up from seminary days but can't remember by whom it first was used.

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